These past few weeks, a national debate has been taking place over the great numbers of refugee children from Central America who have been crossing the border for the past few years. Over 50,000 children have traveled through dangerous terrain to escape gangs and escalating violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Honduras and find a safer place to live and pursue greater opportunities. There are justifiable worries about the strain that accepting these refugee children will put on our already strained social service programs, and many Americans feel that we should focus instead on our own struggling poor. If we deport these children back to their countries, though, are we putting these children at risk to being forced into gangs or put into risk of being killed? Many conservatives have framed this issue as being an immigration problem, but I agree with those who feel that this is really a refugee problem. I made a cartoon for the July 23, 2014 Philippines Today on the plight of the refugee children.
Frances Robles wrote an article for the July 9, 2014 New York TImes entitled Fleeing Gangs, Children Head to U.S. Border about the gang violence that many of these children are escaping. Robles wrote:
Honduran children are increasingly on the front lines of gang violence. In June, 32 children were murdered in Honduras, bringing the number of youths under 18 killed since January of last year to 409, according to data compiled by Covenant House, a youth shelter in Tegucigalpa, the capital.
With two major youth gangs and more organized crime syndicates operating with impunity in Central America, analysts say immigration authorities will have a difficult time keeping children at home unless the root causes of violence are addressed.
In 2012, the number of murder victims ages 10 to 14 had doubled to 81 from 40 in 2008, according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Last year, 1,013 people under 23 were murdered in a nation of eight million.
Although homicides dropped sharply in 2012 after a gang truce in neighboring El Salvador, so far this year murders of children 17 and under are up 77 percent from the same time period a year ago, the police said.
…More than half of the top 50 Central American cities from which children are leaving for the United States are in Honduras. Virtually none of the children have come from Nicaragua, a bordering country that has staggering poverty, but not a pervasive gang culture or a record-breaking murder rate.
Dara Lind wrote an article for Vox Explains entitles 14 Facts That Help Explain America’s Child Migrant Crisis that also emphasizes the role of gang violence in motivating these children to leave their countries. Lind wrote:
Gang violence in Central America, especially in Honduras and El Salvador, is driving a substantial exodus to other countries throughout the region. In particular, teenagers in these countries are being recruited to join gangs; if they refuse, the gang will often retaliate against them and their families.
While the United States is receiving many of the children and families fleeing Central America, other nearby countries are also seeing a rapid increase in the number of Central Americans seeking asylum.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently released a study of the unaccompanied refugee children from Latin America entitled Children on the Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection. The report argues that the violence that these children face at home from gangs and from domestic violence demands that they receive international protection. The report states:
UNHCR found that the majority of children interviewed from all four of these countries provided information that clearly indicates they may well be in need of international protection. The responses of these children were complex and multifaceted and in many cases included both protection-related and non-protection-related concerns. Significantly, protection-related reasons were very prominent, and this report focuses on those reasons. Our data reveals that no less than 58% of the 404 children interviewed were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection…
…Two overarching patterns of harm related to potential international protection needs emerged: violence by organized armed criminal actors and violence in the home. Forty-eight percent of the displaced children interviewed for this study shared experiences of how they had been personally affected by the augmented violence in the region by organized armed criminal actors, including drug cartels and gangs or by State actors. Twenty-one percent of the children confided that they had survived abuse and violence in their homes by their caretakers. A third category of harm giving rise to potential international protection needs arose only among the children from Mexico: recruitment into and exploitation by the criminal industry of human smuggling – that is, facilitating others in crossing into the United States unlawfully. Thirty-eight percent of the children from Mexico fell into this category. Eleven percent of the children reported having suffered or being in fear of both violence in society and abuse in the home. UNHCR found that these types of serious harm raised by the children are clear indicators of the need to conduct a full review of international protection needs consistent with the obligations to ensure that unaccompanied and separated children are not returned to situations of harm or danger.
This is not the first time that this country has faced the problem of what to do with refugees. In the 1970s, Vietnamese refugees were entering this country after the communists won the Vietnam War. Cuban refugees went in boats in dangerous sea voyages to escape Castro’s Cuba. One of the saddest episodes was in the 1930s when the United States rejected many Jewish refugees who were trying to escape growing persecution in Nazi Germany. During the 1930s, the United States put up strict immigration policies due to nativist and isolationist feelings engendered from the suffering of the Great Depression. A highly publicized incident occurred in May 1939, when the United States, and the countries of North America refused to accept Jewish refugees in the ship the MS St. Louis. Here is a youtube video of a documentary “When Canada Said No: The Abandoned Jews of the MS St. Louis”.
Here are some links to articles about the refugee children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador:
Children on the Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection a study conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Statistical Analysis Shows that Violence, Not Deferred Action, Is Behind the Surge of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border by Tom K. Wong for the Center for American Progress
Meet Luis. He Fled Gangs in Honduras. But the U.S. Probably Won’t Protect Him. Our asylum laws are failing Central American migrants by Laura Tillman for the New Republic
Fleeing Gangs, Children Head to U.S. Border by Frances Robles for the New York Times
Keep vulnerable migrant children out of Washington politics by Rev. John L. McCullough for the Hill
Here are some youtube videos of the refugee children of Central America.
An event with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres features findings from UNHCR’s report, “Children on the Run,” which examines the increasing numbers of children from Central America and Mexico who head off alone to find refuge in the United States, fleeing violence, insecurity, and abuse in their communities and at home
A panel of experts from international and local organizations examine the increasing insecurity in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, and the resulting implications for destination communities such as New York
Reporting on the battle between the Mara 18 and MS 13 gangs in Honduras and the terrible impact on San Pedro Sula, the City with the highest homicide count in the world
Two years ago, two of the most violent gangs in El Salvador — Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Barrio 18 — signed a truce. But fighting between the two criminal groups has been on the rise in recent months, and so has the death toll
A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees video about the tens of thousands of people making their way to Mexico escaping gang violence in Central America
A video by the American Friends Service Committee on the problem of urban violence in Central America
The American Friends Service Committee has a Peace Bus in Guatemala that travels around the city to provide urban youth with a “safe space” to receive counseling and learn conflict resolution skills
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Jesus, the Poor and the Church
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A Cartoon on Filipino American History
Two Cartoons on Republicans and the Government Shutdown
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A Cartoon on Government Surveillance
Jasper and Homeless Bob
Two Cartoons on the Economy
Two Cartoons on the Church
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Conversations During The Holidays
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Cartoons About Occupy Wall Street
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Jasper At A Detention Center
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Jasper Protests the War
Jasper and the Economy
Jasper Sings a Protest Song
The Road To Health Care Reform Cartoon
A Cartoon about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
A Cartoon about My Experience in an Evangelical Church
A Cartoon about Political Debate
A Cartoon On Gay Marriage