Surge in Migrating Children at the Border

The news is full of reports about the influx of children migrating into the U.S. and responses to the crisis, some factual, some not. Migration of unaccompanied children is not new, but has continually increased after 2011, with 13,000 in 2012, 24,000 in 2013, and 60,000 anticipated in 2014 by the Department of Homeland Security.  The federal government is not prepared to deal with this massive influx of children.Before 2011, most young, unaccompanied migrants were boys, ages 15-17. Now there are many more girls, and many migrants are under the age of 12. The problem is complicated but two points can be made here.

1. Why this is happening. Opponents of immigration reform are making it an immigration issue, declaring that the Obama administration has been lax on border security and enforcement, and executive action on behalf of Dreamers encourages parents to send their children to the United States. Facts: Border security has never been tougher and more highly funded, and the real reasons, corroborated by many human rights and faith organizations, including the USCCB, are the dramatic increase in crime and violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, coupled with poverty and lack of opportunity in the home countries. Honduras leads the world in homicides, with El Salvador third and Guatemala eighth. The USCCB report, after their November, 2013 delegation to these countries and Mexico, states that they heard many stories of “gang members infiltrating schools and forcing children to either join their ranks or risk violent retributions to them and their families.” For many youth, the option to stay in their country is more dangerous than risking the journey north to the U.S.Also, asylum seekers are fleeing to other countries in the region, including Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize, not just to the U.S. The UN High Commission on Refugees found that of 404 children only 3 mentioned asylum or belief that the US would allow them to stay. They cited violence or economic necessity.

2. US policy has contributed to the situation, helping to increase poverty through trade policies, and funding the corrupt military, especially in Honduras. Vice President Biden will travel to Mexico where it is anticipated that he will encourage education of families to realize the risks. Education is not the solution; parents and teenagers know the risks but believe it is a greater risk to remain in terribly violent situations. The U.S. also supported the coup in Honduras which overthrew a democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, and continues to provide funding to the military and law enforcement rather than to development. On June 2nd, Secretary of State John Kerry received a letter regarding “egregious violations of human rights” in Honduras signed by 108 members of Congress. 

While there is no quick fix the problems are not unsolvable. The US should stop security aid and redirect it to humanitarian assistance, job creation, development aid, and women’s groups. The US should address this as a refugee crisis, not an immigration crisis, and provide humanitarian assistance, including legal aid.On June 2nd, Secretary of State John Kerry received a letter regarding “egregious violation."

(Much of this material was presented by a panel during a congressional briefing on June 17th, 2014.  A USCCB power point and a Fact Sheet compiled by the Jesuits and Washington Office on Latin America are below.)