Trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border is a dangerous feat. Migrants risk dehydration, abduction, rape, forced gang entry, murder, and even abuse by border patrol agents. So why are so many Central American children doing it?
The reason is that life at home for these children is even worse. Most hail from economically depressed, violent towns in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (which has the highest homicide rate in the world). Instability, danger, and unemployment lead them to make the treacherous trek. Some children hope to move in with family members already living here. And another potential driving factor is false rumors spreading in Central America that the US now allows minors legal entrance.
Many conservatives blame Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum, which focuses deportation efforts on “individuals who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety.” Fox News correspondent Judge Jeanine Pirro argued that because of the memorandum, Central Americans believe their child “is the bootstrap to get into the United States and all of the benefits.”
Whether or not it has resulted in a looser border, the memorandum aims to reduce crime by deporting offenders and providing asylum for non-criminals and those who, many would say, are Americans (e.g., by virtue of having grown up in the U.S.).
On July 8th, Obama asked Congress to provide $3.7 billion in federal aid to build more detention centers (current ones are growing more and more crowded), hire Border Patrol agents and immigration judges, and increase surveillance along the border. He faces opposition from Republicans, who say Obama contributed to the crisis by not securing the border, and from some Democrats who worry the initiative will lead to more children being sent back to the dangerous, gang-ridden homes they fled from in the first place. Political interests, as usual, so far trump all hope for a bipartisan solution.
But nonpartisan groups have begun to speak out about the issue. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) both insist that deportation will not solve the ultimate driving factor: rampant gang violence in Central America. “This is a very vulnerable population which has been targeted by organized crime networks in Central America,” said Bishop Elizondo of the USCCB. “To return them to these criminal elements without a proper adjudication of their cases is unconscionable.”
It seems unlikely that children will stop seeking entry while conditions in their home countries remain the same. The government has several options: speedier deportation, adjudication of the children’s cases, or continued inaction due to political interests. Let’s hope it’s not the latter.