The dramatic rise in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border illegally has prompted the Obama administration to announce a new effort to halt what it calls a humanitarian crisis.
Earlier this week, the White House announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will head a new federal task force charged with developing a response to the trend.
According to administration officials, the number of undocumented immigrants under the age of 18 entering the country alone has increased dramatically. Officials say slightly more than 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the country's southern border. The rise has overloaded Border Patrol stations and detention facilities.
Cecilia Munoz is the White House Director of Domestic Policy.
“This is an increase over what we've seen in previous years, it also includes more girls than we’ve seen in previous years and more children under 13 than previous years. This is creating an urgent humanitarian situation which the federal government is moving very swiftly to address.”
President Obama has directed administration officials to establish an interagency task force to respond to these challenges.
A large number of the children crossing the border are traveling from Central American countries including Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
“The reasons that contribute to this dramatic increase have to do with economic conditions in those countries, increase in sustain violence in those countries, as well as the desire to be reunited with their families in the United States,” Munoz says.
Officials say they want to ensure that children are quickly transferred from border control facilities to those operated by the Department of Health and Human Services where they can focus on housing, educational and medical needs.
This influx has prompted the opening of two facilities to house undocumented children – one in San Antonio, Texas and the other one in Oxnard, California. The Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio is already open and can house up to 1,200 children. The facility at the Ventura County naval base will house about 600 children and is expected to open soon.
Administration officials say it could cost up to $2.28 billion next year to care for and resettle the children.
Hiroshi Motomura is an immigration law professor at UCLA.
“Some of this has to do with simply meeting the needs of the kids in the immediate sense of food, shelter, clothing. Some of this has to do with how this meshes with various kinds of legal status that they might or might not be eligible for. And the third part is just what the process is going to look like.”
The number of unaccompanied children could quickly reach 60,000 this year and officials estimate that number could grow to 130,000 in 2015.