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Children elevate Central American immigration crisis, UB expert says

A boy looks out the door window from the room he is staying in at the Brownsville, Texas, port of entry. Photo by Edwardo Perez, courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection


Published July 31, 2014


Rick Su weighs in on the debate surrounding the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children from Central America arriving at the U.S. border.

The ongoing flood of Central American children coming to the U.S. differs from other refugee crises because of the large number of children leaving their families and risking their lives to find new homes, says UB faculty member Rick Su.

“I think on one hand, it’s the numbers,” says Su, professor in the UB Law School and an expert on immigration issues. “We’ve gone to an unprecedented level in terms of minors actually coming to the country and seeking protection of some sort or another.”

But, Su stresses, the crisis is not solely about numbers. The U.S. government deports or excludes at least 500,000 illegal immigrants a year, according to Su.

“The difference is that this is about children,” he says. “And we have not had to actually deal with this many children at any stage up until this point.”

Since the beginning of the year, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have illegally crossed the Mexican border into the U.S., already more than double the previous year’s total. The White House expects as many as 90,000 children will have crossed the border by the end of 2014.

The children often are fleeing drug-fueled gang violence in their home countries, many being pressured to work as carriers for deadly drug deals. Immigration experts expect up to 140,000 of these children will try to escape their dangerous surroundings and come to the U.S. by the end of 2015.

Su says existing immigration law forbids the U.S. government from sending child refugees back into danger, or “harm’s way,” as he describes it.

“Since World War II, we have a law on the books that says if anyone comes and seeks protection from persecution, we would have to make sure that we do not have blood on our hands are — to send them back into a situation in which they may be killed or harmed or tortured, or otherwise persecuted by either a government force or an organization the government is unwilling or unable to control.”

Su says the current flood of children entering the country’s southern borders is not the more common immigration issue that usually has to do with economics.

“It’s much more of a refugee situation that we usually talk about in the Middle East or Africa,” Su says. “Except it’s happening in our own backyard.”