This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Undocumented Immigrants or Refugees? A Tough Call Along the Border

There are at least two things that are true about U.S. immigration policy: (1) it's all messed up; and (2) it is impossible to stop all people from entering the country without documentation. Those who think that the first step is to "secure" the border are, in essence, giving up on immigration reform. Unfortunately, the executive actions of both the Bush and Obama administrations have not helped, either, as revealed today in a long and dramatic story in the New York Times about a detention camp in Texas where undocumented women and their children--mainly from Central America--were being housed ("jailed," really).
Over the past six years, President Obama has tried to make children the centerpiece of his efforts to put a gentler face on U.S. immigration policy. Even as his administration has deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants, surpassing two million deportations last year, it has pushed for greater leniency toward undocumented children. After trying and failing to pass the Dream Act legislation, which would offer a path to permanent residency for immigrants who arrived before the age of 16, the president announced an executive action in 2012 to block their deportation. Last November, Obama added an executive order to extend those protections to their parents. “We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” he said in a speech on Nov. 20. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” But the president’s new policies apply only to immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years; they do nothing to address the emerging crisis on the border today. 
Since the economic collapse of 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico has plunged, while a surge of violence in Central America has brought a wave of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of refugees fleeing Central America has doubled in the past year alone — with more than 61,000 “family units” crossing the U.S. border, as well as 51,000 unaccompanied children. For the first time, more people are coming to the United States from those countries than from Mexico, and they are coming not just for opportunity but for survival.
The story focuses on pro-bono lawyers who have helped people navigate a legal system that is complex and arcane and which, if the story is to be believed, is not well understood by the Department of Homeland Security. But the story also digs down into the attitudes of people living in towns where detention centers exist, and by and large it isn't pretty. What the story does well, though, is to remind us that immigration reform needs to be wrapped into a broader strategy for helping Central American countries gain control of the violence that, in many cases, has been exacerbated by actions of the U.S. government. This is going to be a long and painful process, i think, but the sooner we get started, the less pain there is likely to be.

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