A recent influx of Central American children migrating to the United States is causing a border crisis.
The children are fleeing the violent life in Guatemala, either alone or sometimes with child smugglers who promise assistance only to abandon them. As many as 90,000 children came this year alone.
Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in Central America, is trying to get back on its feet after a 36-year “civil war” where 200,000 people were killed, mostly unarmed, indigenous people.
Of the 300 million indigenous people of the world, 5.6 million live in Guatemala. These people make up 50% of the country’s population, and 80% of them live in poverty.
Parents are often forced to sell any land they have just to pay for food, in some cases leaving children with their grandparents while they immigrate to the United States to earn money.
They are coming to the US in search of a better life. Once detained, they make a court appearance, often alone and without legal counsel. Many do not speak English, or even Spanish. Esperanza Immigration Rights Project, an organization in Los Angeles funded by Catholic Charities, provides legal counsel free of charge to these children through professional immigration attorneys, but only reach about 0.5% of the children who need their services. In the end, some children will be allowed to stay in the US, but many will not, writes Fern Remedi-Brown for The Guardian Liberty Voice.
Many more will perish on the long trip. The death of 15-year-old refugee Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez has become a symbol of the dangers these children face in their attempt to make it into the United States.
“He left because of poverty, because he wanted to help buy his mother’s medicine,” his uncle, Catarino Ramos, said.
According to Caitlin Sanderson, Program Director for the Esperanza Project, Central America has the highest murder rate in the world, with Guatemala coming in fifth.
Much of the crime in Guatemala is driven by drug cartels who recruit or kidnap new members from middle and high schools on a regular basis, according to Alice Masciarelli for Aljazeera America. Parents pay smugglers more than $8,000 to send their children to the US, unable to protect them from a continuing daily struggle.
Almost 50% of the youth surveyed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have reported receiving drug cartel threats or witnessing violence.
The Obama Administration has a $3.7 billion plan to help the children in the works, but they are not the main point of the effort. About $2 billion is planned to use for emergency shelters, legal programs and medical care. However, it is also earmarked for increased enforcement and faster deportation methods.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has publicly criticized the plan, suggesting that border control needs to be heavier to deter illegal immigrants.
“They need to be right on the river,” Perry said on Fox News Sunday. “They need to be there as a show of force because that’s the message that gets sent back very quickly back to Central America.”
Others believe even more resources need to be put towards helping these children be able to stay in the United States.
“They are leaving for some reason. Let’s not send them back in a mechanical way, but rather evaluate the reasons they left their country,” Fernando Protti, regional representative for the UN refugee agency, told The Associated Press.