In the upcoming year, border patrol estimates that 74,000 child migrants will cross into the United States. Over the past three years, border patrol has noticed a surge of these youth fleeing their homes in search of a better life in the United States. An astonishing 74% come from Central America’s “Northern Triangle:” El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, where recent political turmoil and gang violence have wreaked havoc on the standard of living. In fact, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have the highest, second highest, and fifth highest murder rates in the world. Moreover, 59% of the children interviewed by border patrol after entering the United States report that they have “suffered, been threatened, or feared serious harm” in ways that could warrant international protection. Despite the extreme hardship and violence that have been forcing these children’s to flee their homes, the Obama Administration seems more interested in keeping the children out of the country than in offering refuge to the ailing children.
While describing his decision to flee Guatemala, Adrian, a 19-year-old migrant who left his abusive, crack-addict father and absentee mother in his home country to escape death threats from a major street gang, asserts, “I wasn’t really looking for the American dream. I just wanted to get far away.” The United States needs to consider the situation that people like Adrian are leaving behind. They are not necessarily coming the United States in search of a better life. Rather, they are fleeing a hostile situation in order to stay alive.
Instead of immediately offering refuge to the child migrants, the White House has been sending mixed messages in efforts to appease critics on both sides of the aisle. “We are trying to balance two things,” said a White House official. “The first is to adequately deal with humanitarian claims. Nobody is interested in returning folks who should not be returned. The second set of interests we have to address is a deterrent function.” According to certain Cecilia Moñoz, director of the White House Policy Council, the rise of poverty and violence in the Northern Triangle is not responsible for the surge of child migrants. Instead, she argues that a rising number of smuggler and weak US immigration policy are responsible for the increasing number of child migrants. This logic leads Moñoz and her allies to argue that instead of offering refuge to more migrants, the United States needs to take more steps to deter the migration.
However, Lindsay Toczlowski, a top litigation attorney for child migrants in the LA area understands the issue differently. “We see this as a forced migration,” Toczlowski said, “Children are coming as refugees, not because of something they have been told about U.S. policy.”
Ultimately, the mixed messages from the White House have only prolonged and complicated the child migration issue. As long as extreme poverty and violence continue to devastate lives in the Northern Triangle, children will continue to make the dangerous trek to the United States. They are not coming in search of new opportunities; they are fleeing their home in order to stay alive. The White House needs to recognize the conditions that these children are fleeing, and take more steps to offer them refuge in the United States.