Support declines as more and more children cross the southwest border

A new tide of undocumented children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border appears to have eroded bi-partisan support for immigration reform.

The latest arrivals of children without parents or papers also threatens to undermine recent efforts to accommodate young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States years ago and have been educated in public schools.

On July 16, a new national poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that since February there has been a 5 percent decline in support among Americans for giving undocumented residents a path to legal status.

Among Republicans surveyed, the drop in support for granting legal status to undocumented immigrants fell more dramatically, falling from 64 to 54 percent. Tea Party-identified Republicans cut their support for allowing a path to legal status by 15 percent, from 56 in favor to 41.

Meanwhile the president and other politicians are scrambling to come up with a public policy and funding to deal with the thousands of unaccompanied children who continue to pour across the southwestern border without parents or papers. Many in Washington are dubbing this a “humanitarian crisis.”

“Immigration is definitely a crisis,” said Natalia Jaramillo, the communications director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “These children are not migrating, they’re fleeing. They’re getting away from all sorts of poverty and violence and in America we are just seeing some parts of the problem.”

But Pew’s latest survey found that “the public favors a shift in U.S. policy to expedite the legal processing of the children… even if that means that some children who are eligible for asylum are deported.”

Last year, about 24,000 immigrant children without papers crossed the border. This year, that number is predicted to reach 60,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Pew’s poll of 1,805 adults conducted July 8-14 found that “about half (53 percent) think that the legal process for dealing with Central American children who cross the border illegally should be accelerated… Fewer (39 percent) support staying with the current policy, even though the process could take a long time and the children will stay in the U.S. in the interim.”

And the flow of unaccompanied children fleeing violence and political disarray in Central America is predicted to increase even more.

President Obama recently requested $3.7 billion in funding from Congress to help control the situation, which House Speaker John Boehner has accused the president of creating.

“This problem is of the president’s own making. He’s been the president for five years. When is he going to take responsibility for something?” Boehner said on July 11.

Obama got very low ratings in the new Pew poll for his handling of the recent flow of immigrant children.

“Just 28 percent of the public approves of the way he is handling the surge of children from Central America, while twice as many (56 percent) disapprove. That is one of the lowest ratings for his handling of any issue since he became president,” according to Pew researchers.

“But Obama’s overall job rating is virtually unchanged from April: 44 percent approve of his job performance while 49 percent disapprove.”

Despite the president’s endorsement, the Republican-dominated House has repeatedly failed to pass the DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001, sending it back to legislative limbo.

The DREAM Act would allow undocumented children educated in U.S. schools to go to college and give them a long-term path to citizenship and employment.

“Everybody benefits from the DREAM Act. It’s a shame that this can’t be passed because basically Americans [are] telling these young people, who have caused no harm to this country and are here by no fault of their own, that they can’t be here and that we want [them] to be second class-citizens,” said Miami immigration lawyer Antonio Revilla. “That’s what Americans are telling these children by not making the DREAM Act law.”

To Revilla, the debate over the DREAM Act has turned the children who would be covered by it into a “political football.” Revilla’s firm represents undocumented minors, ranging from those just entering America to those who were brought into the country at an early age.

He said he believes the president has the authority to order additional reforms and authorize more funding.

“The president has hinted that he might take executive action. There are certain things that the executive branch can do within the law to help a lot of people that are here without documents and that might be the next step,” Revilla said.

Lynn Tramonte, deputy director at America’s Voice, an advocacy group fighting for immigrants’ rights, argues that the $3.7 billion requested by the president to detain undocumented immigrants should be used to provide these children who do not speak English with adequate lawyers.

“Rather than watching a mass incarceration of children, I believe the money should fund the legal issues for the youth coming into the country,” Tramonte said.

“Failing to pass the DREAM Act hurts the Republican Party image because it seems like their biggest enemy is a bunch of immigrant children. Politicians just try to take the easy way out but the system is too screwed up. Families are split up everyday because Congress hasn’t acted.

“The bottom line is they need to do their job.”