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6/8: Young voices from the border: Fear and unaccompanied migrant children (2)
Released 13 June 2015  By Larissa Converti - Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Young voices from the border: Fear and unaccompanied migrant children

(....Continue from Part 1)

These views gained further credibility as a result of intentional misinformation campaigns by migrant smugglers advertising their services. Many coyotes convinced migrants that they would have a clear path to U.S. citizenship if they made it into the United States. However, permisos are actually presented to minors at U.S. immigration hearings while they are placed with relatives to await court dates. Nonetheless, the misconception of lax policies and guaranteed permission for unaccompanied minors to remain in the United States spurred increased youth immigration in recent years.

Adolfo F. Franco, a former official at the U.S. Agency for International Development overseeing Latin America and the Caribbean, condemns the Obama Administration’s deportation amnesty, arguing that it entices Central Americans to believe they can stay as long as they reach U.S. territory. This “pull factor” of the U.S. has been deeply criticized and referred to as a fundamental catalyst not only for the high number of unaccompanied minors, but also for adults.

A Temporary Decrease

The summer months slow down the pace of immigration as people realize that setting out across the desert could be fatal if it gets too hot. It is not humanly possible for a person to carry enough water to survive the length of the trip. Tighter enforcement on the U.S. border and aggressive public-relations efforts to disabuse potential migrants of misconceptions about easy permisos have also contributed to recent decreases in migrations.

The best numbers do record a drop. An analysis by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., makes plain how much the numbers have dropped. The flow decreased from 21,402 a year ago to 12,509 from October to February of both years. This decline is corroborated by the Department of Homeland Security, which saw 28 percent lower total apprehensions during the same period. As Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, a Pew research associate, summed up, “the broad conclusion is that the increase in deportation is having an effect on the flow of unaccompanied minors.”


Meanwhile, in response to pressure by the United States, Mexico has stepped up law enforcement on its southern border. Mexican “officials returned 3,819 minors to their home countries in the period studied (October to February), a 56 percent increase over the previous year,” according to the New York Times.

The Mexican government has also increased enforcement on its southern border with Guatemala, making it harder for migrants to board the freight train routes through Mexico. The train, known as La Bestia, or Death Train, follows the route from Guatemala north into Mexico. Annually, almost half a million migrants hop aboard these moving cargo trains, suffering the severe heat and lack of water and facing physical dangers that range from amputation to death.

Mexico is, at long last, taking a few steps to make conditions less dangerous for the migrants passing through its territory.

Looking to the Future

Despite the drop in numbers of unaccompanied children crossing into U.S. territory in the past several months, the debate surrounding the issue is far from finished. Lamentably, however, we still have not come to the shared conclusion that these unaccompanied children deserve humanitarian assistance.

President Obama has been urging Congress since July 8 last year to authorize $3.7 billion USD in emergency funds, but would spend much of the money on border security and on quicker deportations. Still, too little attention and resources are being directed to dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Central America.

The president is doing too little, and the U.S. Congress is doing almost nothing at all.

The poverty and violence of Central America and Mexico must be addressed. “There are not many opportunities for these kids. The violence and presence of the gangs have had a significant impact,” said Pacheco, referring to his home back in El Salvador. “Creating more cultural and extracurricular programs would also be useful for the children. These kinds of enrichment would at least expose them to positive experiences in the midst of violence,” Pacheco said.

The nations of Latin America must take responsibility for dealing with the crises that are driving people beyond their borders, but the U.S. government must also join Central America and Mexico in tackling the root causes of the immigration crisis.

Immigration policy in this hemisphere is failing. The United States must begin providing adequate visas for legal immigration programs, offer more opportunities for family reunification and normalize unaccompanied children’s’ status. Whether these children are confronted by border patrol agents or land in detainment centers, they must be treated humanely and respectfully, regardless of their legal status.

The U.S. must provide an authentic case-by-case review of every immigrant’s claim for humanitarian relief. And finally, non-contiguous countries should move to adopt Mexico’s more stringent law enforcement and repatriation policies, for only this will help to stem the flow of unaccompanied children.

The circumstances surrounding these young migrants must be dealt with now. If we do nothing, the children will continue to suffer unjustly.

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