The Central American Child-migrant Crisis

children sleeping in a holding cell

Children sleep in a holding cell in Brownsville, Texas. Photo courtesy Eric Gay/AP Photo.

Rebecca Cao

As many of you might already know, there has been an ongoing Central American child-migrant crisis since 2011. This crisis is at an all-time peak and more unaccompanied minors are attempting to enter the United States than ever. Most of these children are escaping gang violence in Honduras and El Salvador. Although many are fleeing to the US, others are also seeking asylum in Mexico and other nearby nations.

The U.S. federal government is poorly equipped to deal with the present influx of immigrant children, and the Border Patrol has been tasked with the overwhelming challenge. Under the Bush Administration, Congress stipulated that Border Patrol is required to screen the children and send them to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. This inflexibility has led the Obama administration as well as experts to propose alternative laws. The proposed laws, however, do not resolve the problem at hand, which is the overburdened Border Patrol. Furthermore, if the changes are implemented, it would mean that Border Patrol could make the sole determination of whether or not to allow children to proceed in immigration.

According to a recent report by the UN, half of these children would qualify for humanitarian legal status under existing immigration law. Unfortunately, the U.S. does not have the capacity or motivation to help them. While about half of the children are allowed to stay, most of them get stuck in immigration court and very few of them are petitioning for asylum. Out of those who did petition for asylum, the approval rate was only 35%.

It is likely that this crisis will continue to impact our work at MIRC. Due to the Obama Administration's efforts to speed up migrant children's immigration cases, other immigration cases are being further delayed in court.


USCIS Lawful Presence Explanation for DACA Should Result In Driver's Licenses

Updated January 18, 2013

Today USCIS updated its DACA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and explained that immigrants approved under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are lawfully present in the United States.  The new FAQ can be found here:  The Michigan Secretary of State has repeatedly said that she is relying on the federal government for instruction on who is lawfully present for purposes of obtaining a Michigan driver's license or state identification.  Clarification has now been provided.

Some of the many examples of what the Secretary of State's office has said:

From October 18, 2012:

Pointing to that language, spokesman Fred Woodhams said the Secretary of State is taking direction from the federal government as to who is and is not legally in the country.

"Because the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program doesn't confer legal presence on its participants, we are not able to issue licenses or ID cards to DACA participants," Woodhams said in an email.


From December 19, 2012:

"Michigan law requires legal presence for customers to receive a driver's license or ID card, but the federal government has said that DACA does not grant legal status," Secretary of State spokeswoman Gisgie Gendreau said in an email.

"We rely on the federal government to tell us who is legally here in the United States and who is not. The feds have made clear that DACA participants are not."

USCIS clearly explains how DACA beneficiaries are lawfully present by virtue of having Deferred Action (from the first link above):

Q1: What is deferred action?


An individual who has received deferred action is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be present in the United States, and is therefore considered by DHS to be lawfully present during the period deferred action is in effect. [emphasis added]

Q7:  Is there any difference between “deferred action” and “deferred action for childhood arrivals” under this process?

A7:  Deferred action for childhood arrivals is one form of deferred action. The relief an individual receives pursuant to the deferred action for childhood arrivals process is identical for immigration purposes to the relief obtained by any person who receives deferred action as an act of prosecutorial discretion.

This clarification should be exactly what the Secretary of State has stated that it needs to follow Michigan law - which permits driver's licenses to applicants who provide proof of their "legal presence in the United States."

Litigation brought by individual plaintiffs and One Michigan, represented by the ACLU of Michigan, is pending in this matter.  For more information about that lawsuit and how today's announcement might affect it, visit

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