Who knew H.R.7311, the  William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, would be thrust into the spotlight six years after it was signed into law by President George W. Bush?
So who in the world was William Wilburforce? Well, to make a long story short, he was an abolitionist who helped get slavery abolished in the 19th-century British empire.
In 44 sections under four titles, the law spells out numerous ways to combat international trafficking of human beings.
Things like establishing an interagency task force to monitor and combat trafficking, fostering prevention and prosecution of trafficking in foreign countries, assisting victims of trafficking in other countries, increasing effectiveness of anti-trafficking programs, setting minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, taking actions against governments failing to meet minimum standards and on and on and on.
This law had virtually no opposition. It was considered by unanimous consent in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the president.
It was authored by a Democrat and was co-sponsored by three Democrats and three Republicans.
Lots of Democrats and Republicans made speeches supporting and urging passage of the law.
Here’s what President Bush said when he signed it into law:
“Thousands of teenagers and young girls are trafficked into the United States every year. America has a particular duty to fight this horror because human trafficking is an afront to the defining promise of our country.”
So why is this rather mundane piece of legislation being so heavily scrutinized today? After all, these unaccompanied alien children aren’t being trafficked. The vast majority are coming here on their own.
Randy Capps is an immigration specialist with the Migration Policy Institute in Washington D.C. He spoke to the Texas Tribune recently.
He said, “The 2008 law is coming up now because it requires that unaccompanied children who are coming from countries other than Mexico or Canada be given an immigration court hearing and be placed with relatives or in the least restrictive setting possible until that hearing can occur.”
Trafficked or not, that’s what the law requires regarding these UACs.
It might make it a little easier for the White House to deal with today’s surge in immigration if the law could be tweaked to give border patrol agents discretion as to whether UACs have an actual asylum claim under the law.
That’s no good, though, Capps said, because it pretty much nullifies the intent of the law.
“The whole point of the 2008 law was that, that’s (asylum) not something that should be decided outside of an immigration court where a full hearing is possible and where children feel comfortable and have the right to really talk about their experiences and circumstances.”
So instead of being able to just send these people back, they have to get a hearing first. There is no question – this law tends to tie the administration’s hands in dealing with the current surge in UACs across our border.
But that law was passed in 2008. Don’t let anybody tell you that law is why the surge is happening today, nearly six years later.
The causes of the surge are complex, multiple and varied. Certainly a high crime rate, the predominance of gangs and drug cartels and a lack of jobs and opportunity for young people in Central American countries have to be considered.
But how much has the political, sociological and economic landscape changed in Central America over the past couple years? Enough to cause the current, dramatic exodus of young people?
Perhaps.
But I believe U.S. immigration policy also must be considered as a factor in the surge.
In June 2012, President Barack Obama told his immigration enforcement division to stop deportations and begin granting work permits for certain illegals.
(The constitutionality of this edict is fodder for another column.)
“They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper," the president said at the time.
The policy change applied to young undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children.
As reported by the Huffington Post and other media outlets at the time,  Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters that the policy change was part of a general shift by the Obama administration to focus on deporting high-priority undocumented immigrants – criminals, not children.
During the same time, although not nearly as widely reported, it appears the administration ramped up its granting of asylum requests to illegals.
Published just this week in the Daily Caller was a story showing a tenfold in crease in asylum approvals.
From the Daily Caller:
“The number of foreigners who successfully filed asylum claims in the United States almost tripled from 2012 to 2013, up to 30,393.
“That’s 10 times the number from 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected, and it is evidence his immigration officials are approving most of the asylum requests from the growing wave of Central American migrants.”
The internal federal data the Daily Caller cites was provided by a Department of Homeland Security source, the article says.
Several weeks ago, when I first became aware of the immigration surge I Googled the words “inmagración” and “Obama.” I looked for stories in Central American newspapers. Then I translated the pages. I would encourage anyone interested in this issue to do the same. It was fascinating.
Most newspapers were reporting the aforementioned change in U.S. immigration policy back in 2012. Current reports noted the surge in immigrants, but matter of factly, not in negative terms.
One newspaper wrote about two new shelters being opened in California where the UACs would “receive English lessons and develop artistic and recreational activities.”
Nowhere was the danger of the trip through Mexico or the liklihood of deportation even mentioned.
Certainly the conditions in Central America are conducive to emigration.
But almost as certainly –  unintended consequence or not – the surge of Central American UACs at the U.S. Mexican border is an outgrowth of U.S. immigration policy.