About two dozen young activists rallied near Olvera Street on Thursday, calling on the Obama administration to let the child migrants who have been arriving in record numbers at the border stay in the country long-term.
Some of the activists, members of immigrant rights groups like Dream Team LA and the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, arrived in the United States as children themselves.
Twenty-six-year-old Mercedes Montaño arrived in the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 8, accompanied by a friend of her mother, who was already here. She said she wants for the Obama administration to show leniency toward the unaccompanied minors and families from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries that have suffered in recent years with growing gang and drug violence.
“The clear message that we want to send him is that he can use his administrative power to stop deportations of all the 11 million undocumented," Montaño said. "But more so, with this crisis at the border, that he can grant refugee status to these children. It is shameful that as a country, we don’t see the pain and the violence that these children are coming from.”
Some members of Congress, among them Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, have called for allowing refugee status for Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan migrants as a way of diffusing the situation. Among these migrants are more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have made it to the U.S. since last October.
While violence and poverty are the main causes cited for the mass migration, some parents have also been encouraged by misinformation about the prospects for young migrants who arrive in the U.S.
Meanwhile, federal officials have been struggling with how to handle the crisis, setting up emergency shelters for unaccompanied minors at military bases, including at a naval base in Port Hueneme, California.
This week, protesters in Murrieta, Calif. blocked buses carrying Central American families that had been flown from Texas to Southern California, to be processed at a U.S. Border Patrol facility there. Another planeload of migrants arrived this week to be processed by the Border Patrol in El Centro, Calif. More migrants are expected to arrive from Texas this week.
President Obama recently proposed revising a 2008 law that makes it more difficult to quickly deport minors from countries that don't share a border with the United States. Unlike Mexican youths, who can be returned easily across the border, Central American minors are required to have an immigration hearing.
Once here, most are eventually released to family members or other adult sponsors who can take custody of them while their cases are pending.