The United States and countries in the Central America Northern Triangle (CANT, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) are confronting a humanitarian crisis. From October 1, 2013 to July 31, 2014, 62,998 unaccompanied minors, children aged 5 and under accompanied by their mothers, from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador crossed the U.S. Southern border without immigration authorization.
In addition, by August 31, 2014, 66,000 additional unaccompanied children had been detained at the U.S. border, an increase of 412% from the numbers recorded in all borders in FY2013 (Gordon, 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2014). The March 2014 report “Children on the Run” documented testimonies of those in detention, who claim to be escaping the drug war/violence in Central America and face abuse in the hands of human traffickers while en route to the U.S. (UNHCR, 2014). because the “pushing” factors continue to prevail in the CANT countries, the influx dropped in the following months dropped but has continued through 2015. In fact, close to 5,000 children were detained in August 2015 alone.
Since the height of humanitarian crisis, the public attention moved from the border to the cities where these children were placed while awaiting assessment of individual cases. The massive presence of CANT unaccompanied minors in some U.S. cities has put pressure on the social services and school systems in those cities, and overburdened the immigration and justice systems (American Council Immigration Impact, 2015; Catholic Legal Immigration Network, undated).
Communities of reception in the U.S. and the international community are expecting a more comprehensive response to this crisis on the part of countries of origin of these minors. In the July 25, 2014 joint statement of the Presidents of the U.S. and the CANT countries, they committed “to work together on the ongoing efforts to humanely repatriate migrants, consistent with due process and to create the conditions that will allow the citizens of Central America to live in safe communities with access to education, jobs, and opportunities for social and economic advancement.”(The White House, 2014).
In fact, some private and public initiatives aimed at reducing crime and curving migration are underway in Guatemala, such as Mejoremos Guate and Alertos. Reaching out to rural communities is challenging as the majority are of indigenous origin, which is a difficult population to reach. Although anti-gang strategies have been developed in Guatemala, public security continues to be a serious problem as youth continue to join gangs due to lack of viable socioeconomic alternatives.
Only a few healthy alternatives seem to be offered to older children and youth residing in gang-controlled neighborhoods, including those supported by the Raleigh-based (Research Triangle Institute) RTI International with a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A key assumption of the proposed research project is that promoting social development in CANT countries, with emphasis on children and youth, is a more humane and less expensive solution than border/regional militarization.
American Council Immigration Impact (2015). One Year Later: Government Officials Request Lawyers for Immigrant Children and More Judges. Retrieved from http://immigrationimpact.com/2015/07/09/one-year-later-government-officials-request-lawyers-for-immigrant-children-and-more-judges/#sthash.LSwCvFdw.dpuf
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Catholic Legal Immigration Network (undated). The Impact of Unaccompanied Children on Local Communities – Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://cliniclegal.org/resources/impact-unaccompanied-children-local-communities-frequently-asked-questions
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Gordon, I. Mother Jones, July/August 2014 Issue. 70,000 Kids Will Show Up Alone at Our Border This Year. What Happens to Them? Officials have been stunned by a “surge” of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States. Retrieved from: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/06/child-migrants-surge-unaccompanied-central-america
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The White House (2014, July 25). Joint Statement by the Presidents of the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Retrieved from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/07/25/joint-statement-presidents-united-states-guatemala-honduras-and-el-salva
United States Customs and Border Protection (2014, 21 Nov.). Southwest border unaccompanied alien children. Retrieved from http://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children