I want to talk today about the crisis that is taking place along the southern US border, where thousands of children, some as young as three or four years old, are traveling alone or with groups of children, looking for their parents. I’m not going to get into the politics of immigration reform here, because that’s a separate topic. I want to talk about the dangers these children are facing and what we can do to help.
This is another one of those horrors that has been going on for awhile and only just recently hit mainstream news. Now I do have to admit, I don’t watch the local tv news; all they ever want to tell me is if any mormon missionaries were hurt during the tragic event that happened in xyz country, or what the president of the mormon church had to say today. Yeah, I don’t care. So I get my news from NPR when I’m in the car, from MSNBC if I happen to be passing through the living room while my husband is watching, and of course every Sunday from John Oliver.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have crossed the southern U.S. border into Texas in recent months. The numbers have ballooned in the last five years, from just over 4,000 in 2011, to 21,000 last year; already the projected number of 60,000 for 2014 has been exceeded.
These children are refugees, fleeing gang and drug related violence in Guatamala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Boys in Central America are being threatened that their families will be killed if they don’t join the drug cartels. Girls are being forced into sex trafficking. Children who witness the “disappearance” of their friends and classmates are afraid even to walk to school.
The over 3000 mile journey from Central America, through Mexico, to the Rio Grand Valley in Texas is filled with peril. The children suffer from lack of food and water, possible injuries, and the risk of kidnapping. Some travel with “coyotes”, smugglers who charge the families thousands of dollars and do not guarantee safe arrival. Others travel on “la bestia” or “la tren de muerte”; as they cling to the top of this freight train that travels through Mexico, many killed or maimed along the way.
These children arrive in the US and are immediately taken into custody by border patrol agents. According to international refugee treaties, because the Central American countries these children come from are non-contiguous, they cannot be immediately deported. They go first to holding facilities that are typically a concrete room with benches, an open toilet and a sink. The law states that they will be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours, but with the huge numbers of children coming in, that time is being stretched. There are no windows or beds in these temporary facilities, and no access to hot meals.
After transferring custody to ORR the children are moved to slightly more appropriate facilities, many on military bases, but still much like giant warehouse full of children. The refugees will stay there under the supervision of trained childcare professionals while agency officials try to track down family members or sponsors to take custody. At some point after this a “notice to appear” will be issued, requiring the child to appear before a judge to determine his or her fate. This process can take a long time, and the kids may be in the holding facilities indefinitely.
I said I wanted to talk about what we can do to help. I’m feeling very frustrated here, as my search hasn’t turned up many ideas. In fact the only thing I’ve found is this list of resources that includes shelters and agencies that assist immigrants. If you can find any other information on helping, please do share that here.