Few immediate consequences for children crossing U.S. border

NOGALES, AZ - JUNE 18:  Boys await medical appointments in a holding area where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center on June 18, 2014, in Nogales, Arizona.  Brownsville, Texas, and Nogales, have been central to processing the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1. (Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images)

Boys await medical care in a holding area where hundreds of Central American immigrant children are waiting to be processed on June 18, 2014, in Nogales, Arizona. A new Associated Press investigation finds Central American child immigrants do not face immediate consequences for crossing the border without documentation. Credit: Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

Children from Central America who cross the border into the United States alone are able to live, attend public schools and even work without facing immediate consequences, according to an Associated Press investigation.

The AP report cites flawed immigration courts and a child welfare protection law from 2002 as the main factors for this issue.

Additionally, this perceived lack of consequence is part of the driving factor to the surge in undocumented immigrant children entering the U.S. from countries like Guatemala and El Salvador.

While their journey is notoriously dangerous, with the risk of being sent back and having to pay high fees to traffickers, knowing that they will likely not be deported acts as an incentive.

Annually the U.S. government says it will apprehend about 90,000 children — unaccompanied by their parents — crossing into the U.S. by September. That would be a dramatic increase from the 24,668 in 2013 and the 13,625 children that came in 2012. In 2013, fewer than 2,000 of those caught were actually returned to their country of origin.

“They almost never go home,” Gary Mead, the former director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, which handles the process of finding and deporting immigrants in the U.S., told the AP. “It’s not a process that ultimately ends in easy resolutions or clear-cut resolutions.”

The Obama Administration has petitioned for Congress to allocate $2 billion to address the child immigration issue that has been making headlines over the last few weeks as numbers hit record highs.

Hundreds of children nabbed at the border are being held in processing facilities in Arizona that are running low on resources in what is being viewed as a growing humanitarian crisis.

On a last minute trip to Guatemala on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden met with regional leaders and discussed the dangers of the border crossing. He also said the U.S. will start to detain families at the borders.

Earlier this week PBS NewsHour looked at why so many migrant children are braving the journey across the U.S. border by themselves.