"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
--Excerpt from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
Engraved on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty's pedestal, Emma Lazarus' poem became a rallying cry of hope in the early twentieth century for anyone seeking sanctuary in the United States. Fast-forward to 2014 and Americans are being forced to answer whether or not it still belongs on those walls. Are we eager to welcome the tired, the poor, and the homeless?
As per the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), well over thirty-five thousand "unaccompanied alien children" (UACs) have reached the U.S. border since 2013. A UAC is defined by this office as: "a child who has no lawful immigration status in the United States; has not attained eighteen years of age; and, with respect to whom, there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody."
Unaccompanied children from Latin American countries are reaching the border in droves. Last year 37 percent arrived from Guatemala; 30 percent from Honduras; 26 percent from El Salvador; 3 percent from Mexico; and 2 percent from Ecuador. The vast majority are male (73 percent) and 24 percent are under fourteen years of age. The ORR gives multiple reasons why parents send their children to the U.S. border: to escape violence, abuse, or persecution; to find family members residing here; or to seek work to support their family. Others are smuggled across the border by traffickers.
Human trafficking is an international scourge and the United States has passed myriad laws to protect children domestically and internationally. However, the unintended consequences of one such law are in large part to blame for the mass exodus of minors from Latin America. Designed primarily to bring children who are victims of sex trafficking to the United States, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. It provides unaccompanied minors with a full immigration hearing as opposed to being deported back to their country of origin. Misunderstanding the law in its entirety has led parents in Latin American countries to mistakenly believe their children will be...