Unaccompanied minors from Central America are flooding across the United States-Mexico border in response to rumors that American immigration policy is changing. The kids want in before it’s too late.

A combination of gang violence, deteriorating living conditions and misinformation throughout Central America is fueling the surge of minors willing to risk it all in their attempts to reach the U.S.

All one has to do is look at places like Texas’ Rio Grande Valley or bus depots and holding cells in Arizona to know that an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy is desperately needed. But Congress has failed to agree on a package of bills to send to the president. Election-year politics, which recently saw the defeat of the sitting House majority leader in a primary election, make any action soon extremely unlikely.

Human smuggling rings are adapting. With fewer Mexican nationals attempting illegal crossings, the coyotes are more than happy to adapt their tried and true smuggling channels to new customers.

- Nelson Balido

President Barack Obama is not without responsibility here. Unfortunately, his credibility with Congress is so damaged that he’s unable to cobble together any sort of coalition on any issue, never mind on an issue as thorny as immigration.

Yet the president’s threats that he will direct immigration policy by executive order aren’t just annoying Congress, they’re fanning rumors in places like Guatemala and Honduras that a trip to el norte could be a life-changer.

In the flurry of misinformation and misinterpretations, human smuggling rings are adapting. With fewer Mexican nationals attempting illegal crossings, the coyotes are more than happy to adapt their tried and true smuggling channels to new customers.

Meanwhile, with U.S. Border Patrol busy chasing Salvadoran teenagers, drug cartels are ready to slip by.

I am not suggesting Border Patrol is too undermanned too stem this latest surge; it’s not. The agency has doubled in size the past few years to over 21,000. Today’s problems are policy-based.

The president calls the issue of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border a humanitarian crisis. He’s right, it is. But he fails to mention that it’s a crisis that he has contributed to as a result of a failure to lead on one of the nation’s most pressing challenges.

Interviews conducted with families and children reveal the horrendous conditions many of these victims are subjected to, ranging from simple robberies to sexual assaults.  Each person that crosses the border has a story to tell, but few are more heart wrenching than those involving minors.  

But when asked, one of the reoccurring reasons given by these kids for crossing the border is to obtain a permiso, a legal form issued to undocumented non-Mexicans caught at the border who are not slated for immediate deportation and who are eligible to be released under their own recognizance.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for these Central American kids to make an appearance at their local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Most never appear in court and disappear into the U.S.  

A U.S. immigration policy that is not clear, consistent, communicated effectively and enforced in both the spirit and letter of the law is reduced to little more than a mere suggestion. What we are witnessing on the border today is a byproduct of our failed immigration policy.  

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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