Illegal immigrants wanting the chance to live in the United States and possibly have a shot at permanent residency are making a border crossing at a much younger age.
Overall border crossings into the United States have fallen in recent years. More than 1 million individuals crossed the border in 2006, while only 340,000 individuals now attempt crossings annually, according to recent figures. However, the number of youth who have crossed the border has stayed relatively steady, and thus, these youth make up an increasingly larger percentage of the number of individuals attempting the dangerous journey. U.S. Health and Human Services annually cares for between 7,000 and 8,000 undocumented children who make border crosses.
The recent flood of youth making border crossings prompted the creation of a temporary shelter for 100 individuals at the San Antonio Air Force base, due to all of the permanent shelters for undocumented youth currently being full.
At the moment, officials are unsure as to why they are seeing such a large jump in the number of youth attempting the dangerous crossing. Those who are pressed for their reasons have said they are escaping abusive situations at home or in their communities, such as gangs or prostitution.
“The children are recruited quite early and it is very difficult for them to resist, and so the ones who don’t want to be part of those kinds of activities take off,” Lavinia Limon of the U.S. Committee for Refugees said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News.
According to The Associated Press, most youth are natives of the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Only 12 percent come from Mexico.
Once here, undocumented youth are often taken into the foster care system and are often given the chance to apply for a U.S. visa. Most receive housing and healthcare, often including psychiatric treatment.