Border kids protests build amid calls for troops on the border, even secession

Anti-migrant protests come as polls show the problem is No. 1 among national concerns, and as President Obama struggles to solve a humanitarian crisis while addressing border security concerns.

David J. Phillip/AP
Demonstrators hold signs and flags outside the Mexican Consulate on Friday in Houston. The sharp contrast in how Americans are reacting to the immigrant influx mirrors the divisiveness seen in Congress.

Calling for everything from sending troops to the US border to secession, dozens of groups upset over a surge of young migrants into the US took to the streets Friday and Saturday from Oracle, Ariz. to Murrieta, Calif.

Organizers of the "Make Them Listen" movement have events planned in all 50 states, including 34 in Texas, most on Saturday. One protest is scheduled outside the office of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who has been pushing to open shelters for the children in that area.

The building anti-migrant protests come as polls show the border kids problem is number one on Americans’ list of national concerns, and as President Obama struggles to solve a humanitarian crisis while navigating political waters ahead of a critical midterm election.

Since last October, a record number of unaccompanied alien children, or UACs, have crossed the Rio Grande and into Texas, overwhelming the Border Patrol and other relevant Homeland Security agencies. Up to 90,000 will have been detained and released in the US by October, the majority of them, by law, given a court order that protects them from immigration hassles until their court date, and then released to family and friends already in the US.

Already, about two-thirds of the children have legitimate asylum cases, according to early data released by the Obama administration. And if historic trends hold true – that nearly half of Hispanic immigrants ordered to go to immigration court never show up – many of the building group of children have successfully, if perhaps not permanently, emigrated to the United States, probably telling their friends back home about it.

The issue pits the many Americans who would like to see limited amnesty extended to some illegal immigrants against a broader question held by many others: To what extent can American communities, and jobs held by natural-born Americans, survive a quasi-legal immigration onslaught that could only build as word gets out that Americans are giving out “permisos” to stay?

That kitchen table concern is what’s driving a building protest movement.

The first protests took place in Murrieta, Calif., in early July, but on Friday and Saturday they appeared to spread to places like Oracle, Ariz., and Houston, where protesters planned to wave American flags in front of the Mexican Consulate.

A protest in Dallas on Friday saw anti-immigration protesters met on the streets by pro-immigration protesters.

“We’re the good guys and gals in this equation,” anti-immigration organizer William Gheen of North Carolina told National Public Radio. “We’re the American defenders that are standing with the current Constitution, the existing federal laws, and the current borders … that are in peril here.”

The surge of unaccompanied immigrant children across the Rio Grande and into Texas over the last year, it’s now been well reported, took the Obama administration by surprise, overwhelming available deportation centers and forcing the Border Patrol to take its eye off other border security issues.

Yet the bulk of the current crisis on the border is tied to a 2008 law signed by George W. Bush that gave more protections for child asylum seekers who may have been part of a human trafficking chain. It meant that children from non-contiguous countries – Guatemala, not Mexico – had full due process rights. Those rights are now part of a massive deportation backlog clogging immigration courts.

The unintended consequences of that 2008 law, added to Obama White House policies that soften the border by making it easier for some illegal immigrants to be recognized as legitimate US residents, have stoked the political rhetoric and ensuing street protests.

The White House response so far has been rough-hewn. Likely occupied by political realities for his party ahead of the November election, Obama has talked both tough about sending the migrants back to their home countries and at the same moment secured millions of taxpayer dollars to pay for lawyers to help the migrant children and young adults secure residency and work rights in the US.

Even Democrats are fidgeting about Obama’s response, reports Politico’s Seung Min Kim and Manu Raju. Their main beef is that Obama has proposed changing the 2008 law, which many Democrats think is overkill.

They’re also upset that Obama hasn’t used executive powers to directly address the problem. Obama has said he is waiting for detailed reports from homeland security and Justice to announce a policy change. Meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties audibly gasped this week when they were told the daily cost of housing the migrants has gone from $255 to $1,000 per day.

“There was no need, [some Democrats] argue, to create an unnecessary division on a highly emotional issue amid a high-stakes election year — particularly when a large bulk of the party believes that the 2008 law doesn’t need to be touched,” the Politico reporters write. “And some Democrats privately gripe the administration tends to suggest Congress deal with sticky situations in order to give itself political cover – similar to how it handled the crisis with Syria last summer – rather than rely on executive authority as the president has done for much of his second term.”

Whether the anti-immigration protest movement gains enough steam to impact the upcoming election remains to be seen. But the message relayed at protests this weekend – that a surge of migrants could hurt American prospects while possibly raising crime and disease risks – has proved poignant.

For their National Day of Action on Saturday, the Texas Nationalist Movement, which is working toward Texas seceding from the Union, called for further militarization of the border and bans on using taxpayer money to educate the child migrants.

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