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RECAP: Congressional hearing on unaccompanied children at the U.S. border

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On Tuesday, April 27, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations held a hearing on unaccompanied children at the U.S. border. The hearing highlighted how the Trump administration gutted the asylum process through Title 42, Migrant Protection Protocols, and outspending resources on the border wall. From the witness stand, it is clear that there was a bottleneck build-up at the border after deterrence-based policies were eliminated, but Biden is committed to reinstituting human border policies that actually address the issue head-on instead of ignoring it. 

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Representative Barragan started the hearing off with a reminder that we must work together to improve our asylum system and border policies: 

Now is not the time to score political points. We must work together to improve our asylum system and border policies, and do so respecting the humanity and unique needs of child migrants.

Witness Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, Policy Counsel at The American Immigration Council firmly believes that the challenge we face today is not about reducing numbers, but about resolving the immigration processing system. Reichlin-Melnick stated: 

The number of children in Border Patrol Custody has dropped 80% since late March and as of this morning the average time in Border Patrol Custody for unaccompanied children is below 48 hours.

However, Reichlin-Melnick reminds us that packed shelters should not be the new norm and that the focus should be on getting children out of shelters more quickly. He also pointed out that Trump expelled people under Title 42 after the pandemic hit, so it is no wonder that deterrence policies do not have a place in the asylum world and will not work if individuals have a dire need to escape their lived realities at home. 

Witness Robert Garcia, Mayor of Long Beach, California has seen the immigration system up close as his city has been instrumental in providing temporary holding facilities for migrant children. However, Garcia is adamant that these sites should not replace immigration reform.  

It breaks my heart that we have an immigration system that is broken. It’s been decades since we had any type of immigration reform, and strong immigration reform that’s an investment to our neighbors, humanitarian mission, and diplomacy are needed to address current migration of children and others.

Witness Jenner Podkul, Vice President for Policy and Advocacy of Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) points out that the number of children coming to the border asking for protection has risen in the last decade, and despite many attempts to deter migration, these policies have failed to lower the numbers. Podkul suggests: 

We need to ensure that children’s cases are considered fairly and efficiently, and that a child always has an attorney to support them through the complex process. We all win when we do right by these kids.

After this hearing, one thing is very clear: policies that focus on deterrence are not a solution for immigration reform. As Al Green pointed out: 

There are some people who see the solution as ‘just keep the problem on the other side of the border. As long as they’re over there, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances happen to be in the city they’re in, just keep it on the other side of the border.’ I’m not one of them.

Deterrence policies do nothing to stop the influx of immigrants at our borders who should be met with humanity and respect. We need actual solutions that will target root causes and deal with the issues head-on. Avoidance is not an option. If the past decade has taught us anything, it is that we need clear and effective immigration reform at our borders and beyond.