Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, March 1, 2015
The debate over legalizing illegal immigrants was “a primary cause” of last summer’s surge of Central Americans jumping the U.S.-Mexico border, the Government Accountability Office reported Friday, citing surveys of U.S. officials on the ground in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Crime, gang violence and poverty played major roles in pushing tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children to make the trek, and, to a lesser degree, so did abuse at home and lack of access to good schools.
But the children were also pulled to the U.S. by ties to family already living here and by the belief that even if they crossed illegally, they would be given citizenship, the GAO said after surveying State Department, Homeland Security Department and U.S. Agency for International Development workers in each of the three countries.
“For example, the State official’s response for Honduras reported that some Hondurans believed that comprehensive immigration reform in the United States would lead to a path to citizenship for anyone living in the United States at the time of reform,” the GAO said.
About 60,000 illegal immigrant children from Mexico and the three key Central American countries, traveling without their parents, crossed into the U.S. in fiscal year 2014, with 10,000 coming in May and another 10,000 in June alone.
Tens of thousands more family units–usually mothers with children–also came across, though they have gotten less attention than the unaccompanied minors.
President Obama and his top lieutenants said many of the children were fleeing unspeakable violence back home and should be considered refugees.
Mr. Obama also initially downplayed the role immigration policies in the U.S. had in enticing the illegal crossings, blaming the “push” factors in Central America and discounting any “pull” factors in the U.S.
But Border Patrol agents said most of the children they interviewed believed they could earn tentative status in the U.S. thanks to lax enforcement of immigration laws, and the GAO study backs that up.
Even if the children weren’t eligible for asylum or legal status when they arrived, deportations could take years, giving the youths a chance to disappear into the shadows along with the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.