Rep. Issa's Observations on the Border Crisis Following His Trip to Central America

Rep. Issa just returned from a fact-finding trip to Central America. His goal was to assess the causes and possible solutions for the current crisis at the southern border. Today Issa published a series of “observations” about his trip on the Oversight and Government Reform website.

Issa believes the motivation for the current migration is not so much the high rate of violence in Central America as the lack of jobs and opportunity. He also pointed to something called “chain migration” in which children attempt to follow their parents to the U.S.

Why are children flooding the U.S. border from their home countries in Central America?
Economics and chain migration. In each country, government officials, religious leaders, and nongovernmental organizations reported that a severe lack of economic opportunity is the primary motivational factor for migration to the U.S. These leaders described a common story that parents, having left their home country to find work in the U.S., often illegally, are sending for their children to join them. In a gang prevention program (similar to the D.A.R.E program in the U.S.) in El Salvador, about half of a classroom of about 40 ten-year-old kids raised their hands when we asked if they had parents and relatives in the U.S., and all of those children raised their hands when asked if they wanted to go to the U.S. someday. In El Salvador, mayors reported that, while gang violence is a problem, there had not been any particular uptick of violent gang crime coinciding or causing the current surge. Guatemalan government officials and community outreach workers told us that gang violence wasn’t driving their children north.

Issa tweeted out this photo of children raising their hands:

Issa also observed evidence that the lack of deportations, confusion over the President’s DACA initiative and a 2008 bill designed to protect children from trafficking all contribute to the belief that once kids make it across the U.S. border they can stay.

What do the children believe will happen when they reach the United States?
The visible lack of deportations to Central American countries lend credibility to coyotes who try to convince would-be customers that new U.S. policies will allow children to stay in the U.S. Though it is often misunderstood in Central America, the existence of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows some illegal aliens who arrived as children to stay in the United States and protections afforded by the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Protection Act, which make deportation very difficult are well-known in this part of the world. In fact, our Codel consistently heard that human smugglers, known as “coyotes,” use these policies as part of a pitch to convince families and young children that they will be able to remain in the United States like other children who have come here illegally. Hugo Martinez, El Salvador’s Foreign Minister observed that the coyotes are promoting the journey to the U.S. as safe, and maintaining that once people cross the border, their problems are solved. The coyotes even use Facebook and Twitter to promote their “services.” People in Central America are keenly aware that only a small portion of children who make it to the United States have been repatriated – we saw centers set-up for returning children and potential sites that sit empty. The lack of deportations and repatriations – and the lack of anecdotes about migrants making it to the U.S. and being returned home – reinforces the coyotes’ message that children are allowed to stay and encourages more to make the dangerous journey.

It should be said that DACA does not in fact apply to these kids and the 2008 law does not automatically result in all of them receiving permission to remain in the U.S. So, technically, the coyotes are wrong about U.S. law. That said, the coyotes are correct that most kids who make it here are not deported. Over 90 percent of those who arrived last year are still here. Issa tweeted this photo of a center designed to house returning children:

Finally, Rep. Issa offered recommendations for what the U.S. could do to solve the current crisis. He writes, in part:

National government officials, U.S. embassy staff, and workers at
repatriation centers for children report that between 70 % and 90% of
all repatriations come from apprehensions in Mexico – not the United
States.  Both in word and deed, U.S. officials need to do much more to
correct the perception that migrants will be able to stay – legally or
illegally – in the United States once they pass through Mexico.  Because
Mexico is much more aggressive in deporting Central American migrants,
it leaves an impression that the U.S. is less opposed to accepting those
that cross our border.  The U.S. must streamline its deportation
process and U.S. officials must forcefully and consistently articulate
that illegal immigrants making a dangerous journey will not be allowed
to stay if they do not meet strict asylum criteria now or in the future.

Rep. Issa’s full statement can be read here.