Describing the mass exodus of Central American children to the United States as a "humanitarian crisis," U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent, R-15th, called for changes in current law and action by the Senate to address conditions along the southwest border.
Dent, who visited KidsPeace, Broadway campus, Salisbury Township, Aug. 18 to speak with children from Central America currently cared for at the facility, said more needs to be done to curb the tide of unaccompanied children trekking from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the United States.
Dent said as many as 50,000 children have crossed the border into the United States and as many as 40,000 more may do so by year's end, bringing totals to 90,000.
Unaccompanied children crossing into the United States is not a new phenomenon, Dent noted.
"It's the volume that's surprising," Dent said.
Dent said he met with about 30 children in groups of 10 Monday. Current numbers place 51 children at the KidsPeace Broadway Campus. KidsPeace is a location under the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Children at KidsPeace are receiving medical care, room and board and some educational opportunities. Dent emphasized no children at the center will be placed in local school districts.
"I saw a child today five years old," Dent said.
One child reported having nightmares about traveling on rafts because she doesn't know how to swim. No one situation fits all of the children who are fleeing.
"We know there needs to be a policy change," Dent said. "We need to change the law."
In a press conference following his visit with children, Dent touted a plan from the U.S. House of Representatives to allocate $694 million. The money would fund improving the hearing process, creating a 14-day window for children to be seen before a judge to decide deportation, beef up border security with the use of the National Guard and build detention centers.
Dent pointed to the U.S. Senate as not doing enough to address the crisis.
Dent noted the movement of children is big business in the nations the children are fleeing. Families are exhausting life savings to pay human smugglers to get children across the border. Many of the children suffer trauma en route, including physical and sexual abuse, Dent said.
On the political right there are those who do not want to spend the money to address the situation, on the left are those who do not want to change the law, Dent commented. Unaccompanied children crossing the border under dangerous conditions are at the center.
"This is one issue we all can agree on that it must be resolved," Dent said.