Some of the children most vulnerable to violence in Central America make the perilous journey to the United States to live with family, and often seek asylum. But the immigration system has been struggling lately to shelter and process the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the southern border.
Kate Lincoln Goldfinch is an Austin-based immigration attorney. She told Texas Standard the problems come from a decades-old asylum system rebooting after much of it was halted by the Trump administration.
Why the overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities?
Goldfinch ties that back to the system being gutted by the previous administration, and now has to be “put back online.”
“What we’re seeing is all of these systems being put back together because they were blocked and broken under the previous administration,” she said.
Who is seeking asylum and why?
Right now, only unaccompanied children are being let into the United States to seek asylum. Goldfinch says most entering the country are children from Central America’s Golden Triangle – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – and are fleeing gang violence.
“Their families have made this really, honestly, difficult decision to send these kids into safety,” she said.
What happens once they’re in the United States?
Most wait for the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services to vet family members who can take them into custody. Goldfinch says four out of five unaccompanied children arriving in the country without authorization have family here. Otherwise, the child goes to immigration court for “removal proceedings” where they would most likely apply for asylum.
Why is this happening now?
Goldfinch, again, points to the existing asylum system that was in large part blocked by the Trump administration.
“What we’re dealing with right now is we’re getting the system to put back together. And what we need to do is just return to the legal asylum system that we had before the previous administration, and that is a functional system,” she said.
How can the system improve going forward?
Goldfinch says children’s detention facilities need to be staffed by social workers and health care workers, not law enforcement.