NewsHour Asks "Why Are They Coming?"

By Jerry Kammer on July 8, 2014

Last night on the PBS "NewsHour", anchor Judy Woodruff led a discussion about the reasons for the dramatic exodus of tens of thousands of Central Americans to the United States. She heard competing views from the Center for Immigration Studies' Jessica Vaughan and Marshall Fitz of the Center for American Progress.

Fitz took the position that "the real reason people are leaving those countries is because of the violence and the conditions that they're experiencing in their home country."

Vaughan countered that: "the main reason they're coming is because they know that they will be allowed to stay, for the most part" due to U.S. law and Obama administration policies to protect those who leave their home countries under certain conditions.

This question — who will be allowed to stay in the United States and who will be deported — has emerged as the pivotal issue in a border crisis that shows no sign of easing.

President Obama, facing rising public alarm at his administration's inability to stem the tide, says most will have to go home. Immigration advocates, meanwhile, are gearing up to make the case that they should be allowed to stay.

Last night, Fitz's Exhibit A was a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees based on interviews with 404 minors who had come to the United States, unaccompanied or separated from others with whom they had begun the journey, from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico.

The UNHCR report does not give a precise timeframe for those interviews, saying only that they began nearly three years ago — in October 2011. But while Fitz and others continue to refer to the UNHCR findings as justification for their position, news reports about the ongoing exodus make it clear that U.S. law and policies have become a powerful magnet.

The latest such report was part of Monday evening's news on Univision. It showed hundreds of Central Americans sitting precariously atop the infamous train called la Bestia (the Beast) that for years has been carrying people across Mexico. The Mexican government has been strangely indifferent to the chaotic flow, which is preyed upon by brutal gangs and corrupt law enforcement officials.

Said reporter Pedro Ultreras: "These migrants are part of the wave of minors and Central American mothers with children who are going to turn themselves in to the Border Patrol in the United States."

Ultreras reported that a young woman who was traveling with her six-year-old child "says that in her native Guatemala she learned that the American government has opened its doors to mothers like her."

The story also showed Ultreras speaking with a young man who was traveling with two Salvadoran brothers, ages 12 and 14, who wanted to join their parents in Houston. According to Ultreras, the young man "said he was going to turn them over to migration [the Border Patrol] because he knows they will release them."