By Priscilla Alvarez
March 31, 2016
A new survey released on Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute found younger Republicans are more likely to see immigrants as a boon to the United States than Republicans older than 30. In fact, among those 65 and older, only 22 percent share the belief that “immigrants strengthen American society” compared with 51 percent of Republicans ages 18 to 29. The generational divide is not only evident in attitudes about how immigrants fit into American society, but also on immigration reform itself—all of which might provide a glimpse into the future of the Republican Party.
Immigration has been a hot-button issue this election cycle. Donald Trump notoriously made it a central pillar of his presidential platform, declaring that he’d build a wall (to be paid for by Mexico) and deport the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. His hard-line stance on immigration worked. It attracted notable congressional endorsements, like those from Senator Jeff Sessions and Representative Duncan Hunter, and subsequently forced his rivals to take hard-right positions on the issue as well. Take Ted Cruz: He toughened his position on immigration—going from supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to “leading the fight against amnesty”—and said that he too would deport undocumented immigrants. And it all appears to be paying off in votes.
In general, the party shares a negative view of immigration, according to the survey’s findings, which were gathered from 42,586 telephone interviews between April 2015 and January 2016. Among Republicans, 53 percent said that immigrants “constitute a threat to traditional American customs and values,” according to the survey. But when broken down, a contrast between conservative, moderate, and liberal Republicans emerges. Among conservative Republicans, for example, 58 percent have an unfavorable view of immigrants, but only 45 percent of moderate Republicans and 41 percent of liberal Republicans agree.
On immigration reform, the age divide resurfaces. The numbers have stayed fairly stable throughout 2015 when it comes to what Republicans think should be done about illegal immigration—whether immigrants should be allowed to become citizens after meeting certain requirements, should be identified and deported, or should be allowed to become permanent legal residents. A majority of younger Republicans “support providing immigrants currently living in the country illegally a path to citizenship,” compared with 47 percent of GOP seniors. This is to say, the hard-line stance on immigration adopted by candidates in pursuit of the White House may not resonate with the next generation of the GOP, which will soon make up a bigger fraction of the Republican electorate.
It’s unclear how this affects the 2016 race, if at all. While the survey didn’t mention candidates, its findings coincide with the trends seen thus far in the presidential primary. Trump and Cruz have swept several states, far outpacing their rivals (many of whom have since exited the race). In reviewing the electorate in some of those states, age was a key factor. As shown on Super Tuesday, for example, voters 65 and older helped Trump emerge as the victor in seven of the 11 states. And in Massachusetts, a state with a largely white electorate, he raked around 52 percent of the vote from age groups 45 to 64 and 65 and older.
In addition to age, the survey also sheds some light on the characteristics of voters who are attracted to the immigration policies put forward by Trump and Cruz. White evangelical Protestants are most likely to share the view that immigrants be deported. Also in that category: voters who are older, white, have a high-school degree or less, and fall under the conservative-Republican rubric. It’s the voter bloc that Trump and Cruz have courted and successfully attained.
To be sure, there’s no indication that these voters will shift their views in this election cycle, but it does signal a change for the Republican Party as younger voters more tolerant of immigration get older. Even among young white evangelical Protestants, 55 percent said, “Newcomers from other countries strengthen American society,” drawing a contrast from the majority of senior white evangelicals.
Taken altogether, what does this mean for the party moving forward? Only time can tell, but it could mean the voter bloc supporting Trump and Cruz today will be gone tomorrow.
The surge in Central American migrant children and teens crossing Mexico’s northern border peaked in summer 2014, reigniting a contentious debate around immigration policy in the U.S. It was ultimately met with President Barack Obama’s request for $400 million in contingency funds to accommodate unaccompanied minors on top of $950 million that had already been allocated to deal with the issue.
If the intent was to simply stop migrants from reaching America, it paid off: An increased number of Central American migrant children are now being apprehended and detained in Mexico, the new report says. At the same time, the number of unaccompanied Central American minors fleeing violence has never been higher and reports of poor conditions in Mexican detention are raising concerns.
Between 2014 and 2015, apprehensions of unaccompanied Central American children in Mexico rose by 70 percent as such U.S. detentions dropped 22 percent. The correlation implies that Mexico is succeeding in heading off children before they can reach the southern U.S. border.
Underage migrants in U.S. custody haven’t fared well over time, with some having alleged abuses, including insults from guards, sexual assaults, and having to drink toilet water.
In Mexico, however, Bochenek said that the worst part of detention for most child and teen migrants is the simple fact that they’re held like prisoners.
“There are problems with the length of time they are there, and the fact that they’re there in the first place,” he explained. “…A lot of kids have family in Mexico and can be released to family, but they aren’t.”
Human Rights Watch found that in Mexico “wide discrepancies” exist between the law and how it’s enacted.
For example, although Mexican law says migrant children should be quickly transferred to the custody of Mexico’s national child protection agency and detained only in exceptional circumstances, the majority of kids are locked up in prison-like conditions anyway, then subsequently deported.
“Children who may have claims for refugee recognition confront multiple obstacles in applying for refugee recognition from the moment they are taken into custody by immigration agents,” the report reads.
Agents fail to inform two-thirds of migrant children of their right to seek refugee recognition in Mexico, and government authorities don’t screen children to see whether or not they have credible refugee claims, according to the report. Lastly, no legal help or assistance is offered to refugee children who do apply for refugee status, a problem that also plays out for migrant kids in the United States, where a senior immigration judge recently ruled that three- and four-year-olds can represent themselves in court.
At least 27,000 unaccompanied minors entered Mexico over the first ten months of 2015, the Mexican government reported. Human Rights Watch said that's likely a significant underestimate.
That’s because, around the same time, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows the apprehensions of 28,000 unaccompanied child migrants from Central America along the U.S. southern border between October 2014 and September 2015.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that up to half Central American kids entering Mexico have credible claims for asylum, but the new report says Mexico’s emphasis has remained on immigration enforcement.
That focus on apprehension and deportation has no corresponding regard for children’s protection needs, Bochenek said.
The United States has encouraged Mexico’s crackdown with funding and equipment including scanners and vehicles.
The Washington Post reported in December that U.S. officials “plan to spend about $150 million on two major programs, including a biometric system for Mexico to keep track of the migrants it detains and a series of cellphone towers along the rural [southern] border to help government agencies communicate.”
In July 2014, U.S. Special Counsel to the Secretary of State Tom Shannon told the Senate Appropriations Committee that because Mexico was cooperative in starting a new initiative, Programa Frontera Sur, the State Department offered to “match this level of cooperation” with $86 million in funding “to provide support to Mexico’s southern border initiative.”
By September 2014, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson had released a statement applauding how U.S. agencies “responded aggressively to the situation,” saying the U.S was “pleased that the Mexican government has itself taken a number of important steps to interdict the flow of illegal migrants.”
The investment to slow the tide of migration seems to have paid off looking at the numbers, but it's left many young people in a precarious situation.
For teens like Gabriel R., 15, migration wasn’t as much a choice as a necessity. (Human Rights Watch withheld the teen’s last name to ensure confidentiality.)
After gang members approached him at school in Cortés, Honduras, Gabriel was told to join the gang or face the consequences.
“They gave me three days,” he told HRW. “If I didn’t join them, they’d kill me.”
Within the three days, he’d set off, alone, in an attempt to cross through Mexico. He ended up in detention in northern Mexico.
Out of the 60 immigration detention centers in Mexico, the majority of kids travelling alone end up in two large southern detention centers: Siglo XXI in Tapachula, Chiapas and Acayucán in the state of Veracruz. Mexican press reports have previously decried “inhumane” conditions in Siglo XXI.
A Mexican law mandates protection—like housing in shelters run by the national child protection agency and professional screening—upon first encounter by child protection officers. Yet, data reviewed by Human Rights Watch revealed that just one percent of underage migrant youth had been recognized as refugees or received such protections in Mexico.
"Obviously if they reach the US, the standard obligation under international refugee laws exists to give them a fair hearing, and to make sure they’re not returning to a place where they will be tortured or that their life would be at risk,” Bochenek said. “Many would qualify for asylum in the U.S.”
Uriel Gonzalez, director of Casa YMCA, Tijuana's only shelter for unaccompanied migrant children between the ages of 13 and 18, interacts with teens and pre-teens daily.
He’s recently seen children from El Salvador and Honduras pass through the shelter on the way to ask for asylum in the U.S. “In some cases, we were able to identify pro-bono immigration lawyers to take the cases,” Gonzalez said.
Still, even for those underage migrants who beat the odds and find representation, their chances of actually winning asylum cases are slim.
The problem will likely get worse before improving.
Violent crime continues to spike in Central America. El Salvador recently unseated Honduras as the world’s most murderous country: in 2015, the murder rate there leapt 70 percent.
“It probably shouldn’t be surprising that kids are travelling alone at younger and younger ages. Even though I knew that intellectually, it was still shocking to talk to a ten or an 11-year-old travelling on their own,” Bochenek said, noting that the number of girls migrating alone is growing, currently comprising a quarter of Central American child migrant. “Those two things are indicators of how difficult things are in the northern triangle."
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