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Most agree on protecting children in immigration debate

20140718 BP-PatrolAs unaccompanied children from Central America continue to flock to the United States, most people on both side of the debate on what to do with them seem to agree on one thing–the children need to be protected.

In a vigil at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, young adults who came to the United States illegally as youths, pleaded the plight of the children, saying their lives had been turned into a political game.

Cristina Jimenez, co-founder of United We Dream, which organized the vigil, came to the United States at the age of 13 with her family as they fled political turmoil in Ecuador.

Jimenez said the debate boils down to one question.

“If there was a little boy who was fleeing violence and harm and death and this little boy came to your door and knocked on your door in the middle of the night, and this little boy asked you for shelter and protection, what would you do?” Jimenez asked.

“What would you do, President Obama, if you had a little boy knocking on the White House right now asking you for safety and protection?”

This week U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, and Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, teamed up to author legislation, dubbed the HUMANE Act, they say protects the children. HUMANE stands for Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency.

If passed, the act would treat unaccompanied migrant children from Central America and other countries the same as those from Mexico. They would have seven days to make a claim to remain in the United States legally after a screening by Health and Human Services before being deported.

Currently, Central American children are given a notice to appear in court and are released to their closest relatives. The legislation authorizes up to 40 additional immigration judges to keep up with the flow.

“Our changes to the law maintain all the safeguards built in to the 2008 law to protect against human trafficking, to protect children who have a credible fear of returning to their country, and to facilitate a timely return for those children who can make an independent decision to withdraw their application and return to their country,” states a column submitted by Cuellar and Cornyn published in the Houston Chronicle.

It adds that Border Patrol facilities are overcrowded, forcing babies to sleep on cement floors and multiple children to share cells with one toilet. The legislation would send a message to Central American residents that the trip to the United States isn’t worth it, the column states.

Meanwhile, United We Dream received national attention when Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist brought to the United States illegally as a child, was arrested by Border Patrol when attempting to catch a flight out of McAllen. Vargas had been in town in part to support United We Dream and tweeted before the flight that the only identification he had with him were his Philippine passport and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Hours later, Vargas was released and told he would have to appear before an immigration judge, but he told the New York Times he was released because he was considered low priority and not a threat.

“I would argue that the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country are not a threat either,” Vargas said.

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