Friday, June 27, 2014

No Easy Answers

I posted something yesterday about the increase in violence along the Texas-Mexico border. Along with that increase, we've also seen an unprecedented increase in the number of "unaccompaied alien children" (UAC) crossing the border.
The massive border breach by “unaccompanied alien children” has been building since 2012, going from 6,560 in fiscal year 2011 to an estimated 90,000 this year, and a possible 150,000 in 2015.
That post led to one of my readers asking about the "why and how" of those children crossing the border. The answers are complex and disturbing.

Let's take the "how" first, because it's the simpler of the two. A large number of the UAC are what is referred to in these parts as OTM - Other Than Mexican. They come from various countries in Central America (more on that later). They get to the border by riding "The Beast."
There's a network of freight trains that runs the length of Mexico, from its southernmost border with Guatemala north to the United States. In addition to grain, corn or scrap metal, these trains are carrying an increasing number of undocumented immigrants whose aim is to cross into the U.S.

These aren't passenger trains; there are no panoramic windows, seats or even a roof to guard from sun or rain. People call the train La Bestia, or The Beast. Some call it the Death Train.

It's estimated that up to a half-million migrants now ride The Beast each year, sitting back-to-back along the spine of the train cars, trying not to get knocked off their rooftop perch.

Many Beast riders have suffered physical injury or death falling off the train or getting sucked into the wheels trying to board it in motion. In some areas, that's the only way on.

Most of those making this 1,450-mile trek are not from Mexico. They come from Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras...
(More about riding The Beast can be found here. Also, please take the time to visit the other links in this post. They explore this issue in more depth than I can do in a short blog.)

Once they get near the U.S. border they put themselves into the hands of 'coyotes' - human traffickers who take their money, and then subject them to hardship, abuse, and torture.
Human traffickers are forcing illegal immigrant children to cut off the ears and fingers of other kids traveling into the U.S. in order to extort money from their families

The coyotes ... 'are not well-meaning social workers trying to care for these kids. These are hardened, cold criminals. These are transnational, global criminal cartels. And they are vicious, violent murderers.'

'These children are being subjected to physical abuse, to sexual abuse. Some of them are losing their lives.'
Nevertheless, enough of them survive The Beast and the coyotes, and make it into the U.S.

They next question is "why?" What compels these kids to undergo these hardships and risk all for an uncertain reception here?

There is no one simple answer. One way to look at it is in terms of 'push' and 'pull.' Push factors - those that drive the UACs away from their homes - include poverty, threats, and violence.
Countries in what’s known as the isthmus, the region that stretches from Nicaragua to Guatemala, have the highest murder rates in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Data from that office shows Honduras is home to the deadliest city in the world, San Pedro Sula, where 169 out of every 100,000 people are murdered. The murder rate in Guatemala is nearly as bad and getting worse. And while El Salvador has seen a slight decrease in murders, it is still ranked fifth globally, according to the latest figures available.

Gang violence in Central America escalated in 2006, when the Mexican army went to war with the cartels there, setting off a years-long street fight with thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire. The war squeezed out the weaker gangs and “the smaller ones were displaced to Central America” said Noriega, where they were able to take root and in some instances displace local governments and police entirely.

Children are among those targeted by narco gangs, along with women and the very poor, and they’re often pressured into service as drug-mules and even assassins, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Sexual violence against them is common.

Aura Perez was 16-years-old when she was kidnapped by a local drug lord in her small Honduran hometown. He repeatedly beat and raped her over a period of weeks...

Nodwin (last name withheld), an 11-year-old boy, traveled unaccompanied to the U.S. from Honduras last year. While in Honduras, he recalls watching gang members approach a boy his age while playing in the park, strip the boy naked and rape him.
Other examples:
A 17-year-old boy who fled Honduras said, "My grandmother is the one who told me to leave. She said: 'If you don't join, the gang will shoot you. If you do, the rival gang will shoot you, or the cops. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.'"

A 14-year-old girl from El Salvador said: "The biggest problem is the gangs. They go into the school and take girls out and kill them. ... I used to see reports on the TV every day about girls being buried in their uniforms with their backpacks and notebooks. I had to go very far to go to school, and I had to walk by myself. There was nowhere else I could go where it would be safer."
Anecdotes, no matter how heart-wrenching, do not constitute meaningful data. However, there is some more solid evidence that violence is driving the movement.
A United Nations report published in March found that most children feared for their safety in their home countries... The report found a strong link between regional violence and insecurity and new displacement patterns -- children migrating northward.
There's not much doubt or dispute over the push factors. More contentious, however, are the 'pull' factors.
Many say the children are not as much fleeing as being drawn by rumors that the Obama administration will protect child migrants. By letting more child border-crossers stay in the US, it would create incentive for more illegal immigrants to try their luck on the US border, they argue.

They note that the current surge began in 2012, when President Obama signed an executive action that allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as minors to defer deportation proceedings for two years. Last week, the administration announced plans that would allow these immigrants to defer their deportations a further two years.
Fueling the problem is misinformation about U.S. immigration policy that is rampant throughout Central America.
...Central American families believe that their undocumented children may be spared from U.S. deportation under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), even though those arriving now do not meet the eligibility criteria.

Immigrant families also may be assuming their undocumented children would someday be eligible for a proposed pathway to citizenship...
So are the UACs refugees fleeing hopelessness and violence in their home countries, or are they illegal immigrants looking for a free handout? Are they innocent victims - children - seeking safety and stability, or gang members and criminals trying to expand their reach into fresh territories?

Like many other problems today's world, this is not a simple black-white either-or question. The answer is not clear-cut either. It would be naive to assume that all the UACs are pure as the new-driven snow. But is would likewise be harsh, unfeeling, and incorrect to assert that they are all deadbeats or evil thugs who deserve to be returned to sender.

Complicating matters is a legal differentiation between children from contiguous countries - Canada and Mexico - and children from non-contiguous countries.
Unaccompanied children from Mexico and Canada are repatriated unless they are determined to be victims of trafficking.

But with non-contiguous countries, children are taken into U.S. custody.

Federal law says minors cannot be held at a Border Patrol facility for more than 72 hours. They have to be processed and then either sent to live with a relative in the United States or released to a shelter operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services.
It is these shelters that are being overwhelmed by the flood of UACs. Similarly, the immigration system that reviews each UAC's status has been overwhelmed as well.
The law mandates that a child must at some point appear before an immigration judge, who could decide to grant special immigrant juvenile status if that child has been abused, abandoned or neglected and is unable to be reunited with a parent.

Immigrant advocates say they have seen young children appear on their own in court, not knowing how to make a case for themselves. It's a situation that's made even more difficult by the fact that few are able to obtain proof of what happened to them in their homelands. Often, there are no police reports or other documents, so judges have to rely on the veracity of their stories.
In short, the whole sad situation is a mess. There's so many more factors in play here that I can't do them justice. As for the solution, it's easy to say "Secure the border, " but what does that really solve? Do we simply force these thousands of children to pile up on the south side of a fence running the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, leaving them to die of starvation or exposure, or abandoning them to the tender mercies of the coyotes? Do we wash our hands of them and tell Mexico "Hey, it's your problem?" Do we shoot kids trying to cross? Do we throw them in jail? Do we welcome them with open arms, turning them loose to run free in our country? Do we create some sort of refugee system to house them, feed them, and educate them? What do we do with them after that?

I don't know. I just don't know...


Bag Blog said...

Thanks for providing links and info. It is a complicated situation. When I hear someone say, "Just send them back!" I cringe knowing what some of those children face if they are sent back. Yet, having been a secondary teacher in a border town and in NM where gangs are a problem, I know that some kids are not sweet innocents. What a mess! I blame years and years of ignoring our southern neighbors and feeding the problems with the USA's drug use. And lots more, but I won't rant here.

CenTexTim said...

It is a mess - a complex, ugly mess that, as you say, has been years in the making. I wish there was a 'silver bullet' - a simple solution. But there isn't. The frustrating thing is watching the politicians try to make political hay out of this situation rather than trying to address it.

Old NFO said...

It IS a mess, no question. Problem is the administration has contributed to it with the lax enforcement. As far as the border, I'd secure it. That is the only way to stop the flood. Once they know they can't cross, they'd stop coming for the free ride, and yes it WOULD be Mexico's problem (that they've been ignoring for years).

Well Seasoned Fool said...

A complicated mess, indead. One step, available now, if for the Mexican government to start acting like a government. The weak link are the coyotes.

Long term, stop our war on drugs.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

indeed, aarg!

CenTexTim said...

NFO - yabbut... heard an interesting discussion among locals today. The point was why should Mexico help - what's in it for them? We need to come up with a solution that incentivizes them to interdict the flow at their southern border, long before 'they' get to the Rio Grande.

WSF - agree 100% re: the absurd 'war' on drugs.