Sonora will help deported kids
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 5, 2005
Daniel González


The state of Sonora is creating a program to better care for the thousands of children who cross the border illegally into the United States and are deported back to Mexico.

Under the new program, Mexican officials will try to reunite the children with relatives or parents in Mexico or the United States. Parents who don't claim their children within 90 days, however, risk losing their children to adoption.

"In the past, some of these children were lost and ended up homeless," said Lourdes Laborín de Bours, president of Desarrollo Integral de la Familia in Sonora, a state family social services agency. Bours will be in Phoenix today to announce details of the new program, called Camino a Casa, or Returning Home.

Unaccompanied children caught by the U.S. Border Patrol and deported to Mexico is a growing problem. They often travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles alone along a dangerous journey, where they are vulnerable to smugglers, and criminals. The problem is growing primarily because tighter security on the U.S. side of the border makes it riskier for undocumented parents in this country to go back for their children. As a result, increasing numbers of children are making the dangerous journey alone, usually after their parents hire smugglers to help them enter the country illegally. And sometimes children crossing with parents become separated during the journey.

Last year, the Border Patrol repatriated more than 39,600 children to Sonora alone, after they crossed the border illegally and were apprehended in Arizona. Of those, more than 6,200 were children traveling unaccompanied by a parent or relative, Bours said.

Once repatriated, the children become the responsibility of the state. Often they need medical care, clothing, food and an education, costing Sonora millions of dollars, Bours said.

The state plans to establish shelters in three Sonoran border cities: San Luis Rio Colorado, Nogales and Agua Prieta. During the first 72 hours, repatriated children will receive critical medical and psychological care, Bours said.

Social workers first will attempt to find relatives in Mexico and return the children home if they are found. If no safe relative in Mexico can be found, social workers then will reach out to agencies in the United States to find the children's parents in this country. Under a new state law, the child's parents will lose legal rights after 90 days, and the child will be put up for adoption, Bours said.

Victoria Lopez, executive director of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, said the program seems well-intentioned.

But she is concerned that undocumented parents living in the United States could jeopardize themselves and their families if they return to Mexico
for their children and then attempt to re-enter the United States illegally.