TERRE HAUTE -- Despite the U.S. government's efforts to deter immigration, people are still coming "in very high numbers," said Maria Woltjen, keynote speaker during Terre Haute Human Rights Day at Indiana State University.
They continue to come even though they know they will be arrested at the border, detained and their children may be taken away temporarily.
"They are looking for safety," she said.
Woltjen, who advocates for immigrant children, believes the U.S. needs to invest in those countries experiencing great turmoil so families and children won't feel a need to leave their home countries to escape such dangers as gangs, drug wars and violence.
"No one wants to leave home unless they have to," she said.
Many unaccompanied children are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, countries suffering epidemics of cartel violence, political instability and extreme poverty.
Contrary to what might be public perception, "It is everyone's legal right to come to the border and seek protection," under international and U.S. law, she said.
Woltjen is the founder and executive director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago Law School. It is a national organization that advocates for the best interests of unaccompanied and separated immigrant children. The children are apprehended as they cross the border and then detained around the country.
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