The number of unaccompanied children traveling to the United States without an adult guardian has doubled since last year. PHOTO: Reporte43Tamaulipas
The number of unaccompanied children traveling to the United States without an adult guardian has doubled since last year. PHOTO: Reporte43Tamaulipas

Crisis at the Border
By ALEJANDRA PAULINO, age 12

Since October 2013, more than 63,000 unaccompanied children have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, double the number from the same period last year. Many of them have come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to reunite with family in the United States or escape violence in their countries. In June, President Obama declared it “an urgent humanitarian situation.”

Waiting to find out if they’ll be able to stay in the United States, many of these children are being held in overcrowded detention centers in border states like Texas, where they sleep on tiny blue mattresses covered in plastic. These facilities have been called “hieleras” or “freezers” because of how cold they are inside. Eleven-year-old Sixta, who traveled to the border with her sister from Honduras and was kept in such a facility, told reporters: “I suffered a lot in la hielera… I still wake up crying thinking I’m there.” Some children have gotten ill from the food they are given. Others say they’ve been verbally and physically abused by U.S. border officials. A Guatemalan child named Jose Miguel said agents kicked him and his cellmates when they were counting the children at night.

PHOTO: Border Angels
PHOTO: Border Angels

A 2008 law states that children from countries that do not directly border the United States must be allowed an immigration hearing to determine if they would be in danger if they returned home. Many of the new arrivals may be eligible for refugee status if they can establish that they fear violence in their home country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Some people are against granting the children refugee status. In July, a group of protesters in California blocked a bus filled with undocumented children and held up signs that said “return to sender.” Enrique Morones, director of the advocacy group Border Angels responded in an interview with Democracy Now!: “A society is judged on how we treat our children, and what we witnessed that day was the worst of the American spirit.”

Many kids have died or been seriously injured hitching rides through Mexico on top of massive freight trains with nicknames like “El tren de la muerte” (The Death Train) or “La Bestia” (The Beast). PHOTO: Peter Haden
Many kids have died or been seriously injured hitching rides through Mexico on top of massive freight trains with nicknames like “El tren de la muerte” (The Death Train) or “La Bestia” (The Beast). PHOTO: Peter Haden

The Journey North
By DAPHNE KNOUSE-FRENZER, age 12

The unaccompanied children who have traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America have faced a dangerous journey with no guarantee of admittance into the United States.

But for many, the danger of staying in their home countries is even greater. Trafficking of drugs through Central America to the United States, police corruption and gang activity are creating an environment that leaves many parents with little choice but to send their children away. Local gangs often pressure kids as young as six to join the gang, threatening to kill them if they don’t obey. “The biggest problem is the gangs,” said a 14-year-old girl fleeing El Salvador. “They go into the school and take girls out and kill them.”

Many parents pay anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 to “coyote” smugglers to help their children navigate the rugged and sandy terrain between their homes and the United States. The land they cross is rife with rattlesnakes, thorn bushes, violent drug cartels and countless other dangers.

President Obama is urgently pressing parents not to send their kids North. “Do not send your children to the borders,” Obama said. “If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”

However, on August 16, the LA Times reported that since February, between five and 10 children have been killed after being deported back to Honduras from the United States.

This is why many parents think it is worth the risk to get their kids out, in order to escape gang violence. A mother of two in Honduras told the New York Times: “The first thing we can think of is to send our children to the United States.” She refused to give her name in fear of gang reaction. “That’s the idea, to leave.”

Migrants waiting for the freight train in the south of Mexico. This child was traveling with her mother and two brothers. They said they were trying to escape the violence in Honduras. PHOTO: Encarni Pindado
Migrants waiting for the freight train in the south of Mexico. This child was traveling with her mother and two brothers. They said they were trying to escape the violence in Honduras. PHOTO: Encarni Pindado

Past History and Present Realities: Violence and Poverty in Central America
By JON TUPAS and KATIE SCHLECHTER, IndyKids Staff

The surge in undocumented child migrants entering the United States is linked to the economic and social conditions in their home countries. Most of these migrant children are fleeing extreme poverty and violence related to gang activity, police corruption and the drug trade.

A study by the U.N. Refugee Agency showed that 58 percent of the child migrants they interviewed were “forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.”

However, activists, journalists and historians claim that the current situation can be traced back to U.S. foreign policy during the 1980s and earlier. “Every major wave of Latino migration has been very directly connected to actions taken by the United States in Latin America to either further the country’s economic or military interests,” said Eduardo Lopez, co-director of the documentary film, Harvest of Empire.

Despite anti-immigrant protests, many activists and communities have voiced their support for the child migrants. PHOTO: Light Brigading
Despite anti-immigrant protests, many activists and communities have voiced their support for the child migrants. PHOTO: Light Brigading

During the 1980s, a wave of socialist movements passed through the region. During this time, the United States was committed to fighting any political movements related to socialism or communism. To do so, they gave money to conservative governments and helped to train their military forces in multiple countries, including El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, to squash the movements. Civil wars between socialist groups and U.S.-supported military governments in El Salvador and Guatemala alone resulted in the death or disappearance of more than 280,000 people.

This complex history plays a large role in the current situation of poverty and violence in these countries. “I believe that many, many immigrants would prefer to stay in their home country,” Lopez said. “But again, the conditions that U.S. corporations and U.S. military make in Latin America make that [option] impossible.”


GLOSSARY OF TERMS

Displaced: when a person is forced to leave their home due to violence, economic instability or environmental or climate disasters.

Foreign policy: the way one country economically, politically and diplomatically interacts with another country or region.

Refugee: a person forced to leave their home country to escape for reasons of race, poverty, war, religion and/or violence.