Newspaper article International New York Times

The Context of a Crisis

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Context of a Crisis

Article excerpt

The surge of young Central American immigrants into the United States is posing major challenges for the government, and President Obama.

The surge of young Central American immigrants into the United States has created a humanitarian crisis, posing major challenges for President Obama and making it far harder for him to ease deportations, let alone pursue immigration reform. Here is the background:

Q. What exactly is happening with the young immigrants who have been flocking, unaccompanied, to the United States' southern border?

A.Their numbers have risen sharply, totaling more than 57,000 since October, badly straining detention centers and the system that processes them. Many are teenagers, and most are from Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador.

Q. What is leading them northward?

A.Officials blame violence at home by gangs and drug cartels, grinding poverty and widespread rumors -- inspired by a 2008 law meant to protect children from sexual exploitation -- that young immigrants reaching the United States alone can expect lenient treatment (the law does not apply to minors from Mexico).

Some analysts note that many of the worst Central American gangs originated in Southern California among immigrants who were later deported; and many work for drug cartels whose business is fueled by American demand.

Q. What risks or dangers do these young immigrants face?

The greatest dangers come during the journey northward, including the risks of being raped, robbed or killed. The United States Border Patrol has reported more than 220 deaths this year along the southwest border, though it is unclear how many were of young people.

Q. What happens to them once they are in United States custody?

A.The 2008 law directs the Department of Health and Human Services to place minors "in the least restrictive setting" that is in their best interest, to try to reunite them with family members, and to allow them to appear at an immigration hearing. The children are being detained for 35 days on average; 85 percent are then released to parents or relatives, who must promise to bring the children to the hearings.

Q. Are conditions bad in the detention centers? …

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