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September 2, 2014

Wave of undocumented children challenges health care programs

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The increased number of children crossing the border from Central America has education and health care systems scrambling to provide care.

Many of the children come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, fleeing violence from drug gangs. U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended at least 63,000 unaccompanied minors at the border so far this year, which is more than double last year’s total.

Officials note that there are more girls younger than 13 years old making the dangerous journey.

Once children arrive in the U.S., officials try to relocate them to family, care-based organizations or detainee centers while their cases are processed.

The Washington, D.C. service agency Mary’s Center is now caring for 500 undocumented children. The organization provides health care and schooling as well as treatment for mental and physical trauma, explains founder Maria Gomez.

“We have one child after another whose families have been killed, their brothers and sisters, their mothers, their fathers,” she said.

Basic health care for these children costs about $800, Gomez said. The center has given nearly $400,000 in free care to individuals who cannot pay so far this year.

The influx of unaccompanied minors has caused legal and human rights problems around the country.

A group of lawyers recently charged federal officials with violating the rights of detainees at an immigration center in New Mexico. The suit alleges that officials sped deportations and denied detainees time to find a lawyer.

Obama has called the immigration system “broken” and urged Congress to work on immigration policy reform.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is Central America?
  2. Why do immigrants come to America?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What challenges does a child face upon entering the U.S. alone? How might these challenges be different for children who do not speak English?
  2. Many children who cross the border are in need of medical care, but have no money. How should doctors and government agencies handle this situation?
  3. Address the issue of undocumented children crossing the border from the perspective of a member of Congress, President Barack Obama and the mayor of a town on the border with Mexico. How are their concerns and potential solutions similar, and how are they different?
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