Border Crisis: Children Caught in the Middle – Part 2
The migration journey from Central America to the United States – for anyone – is a dangerous and sometimes deadly one. The experiences shared by those coming to the US often include paying a “pollero” or “coyote” for guidance, placing trust in this person for your very life; riding atop a train know as “The Beast” for up to 12 hours; being carried across a river on a hand-made raft of inner tubes and wood – or swimming if you can’t afford to pay for passage. And you may not be able to, because at every turn along the way lies the threat of being robbed, beaten, abducted, or even killed.
Now, imagine making this journey, alone – as a child.
Children as young as 6 or 7 years old have been found, with even younger siblings in their care, making the journey without an adult or guardian. Their hopes are to make it to the U.S., more than likely through the Rio Grande Valley which serves as the main immigration gateway, to be reunited with a relative – often a parent – who lives in the U.S.
Why are they risking so much?
Here are some numbers:
- Highest Murder Rate per capita in THE WORLD: Honduras (El Salvador ranks 4th, and Guatemala 5th)
- San Salvador, El Salvador: The Arizona Republic reports that, “The city averaged more than 12 murders a day in June, according to federal police.”
- San Salvador, El Salvador: Rick Jones, Deputy Regional Director of Catholic Relief Services estimates that about 60 percent of the city has a heavy gang presence. He feels that the level of violence leaves young people with no alternative but to leave.
- There is currently a backlog of 375,000 juvenile immigration court hearings in the US. The average wait for a hearing? 600 days.
The beaten path for Central American immigrants roughly leads them up the eastern coastline of Mexico, along the Gulf Coast. According to witnesses, violence and theft against the immigrants is equally doled out by gangs, bandits and Mexican police including the Federales, as they make their way. Many reach the end starved and penniless, only wanting to surrender themselves to US authorities. Some will seek out the police or border patrol; others can only wait, hoping to be found.
The children will be taken by Border Patrol to a holding cell, which they call “hielera”, meaning ‘ice box’, because the cells are so cold. Then they will be placed in a shelter by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (through the Department of Health and Human Services). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Customs and Border Protection have had to set up temporary shelters in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and California to help house and care for these minors. The shelter will house them until they can connect with a family member here in the U.S. to await immigration proceedings. If the child has no family here, they will enter the federal foster care system. The law requires that the children be placed in the “least restricted” setting possible to await their hearing, and is generally charged with prioritizing “the best interest of the child” when choosing from possible options available in such cases.
With legal assistance, the children can apply for asylum. But in order to qualify, they must be able to prove abuse or abandonment by a parent, or show fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social or political group at home. According to the Arizona Republic, a contingent of immigration lawyers from Phoenix went to one of the shelters in Nogales, AZ last June to try to meet with the unaccompanied minors there, but they were denied access. ALA attorneys have gone and Arizona ALA Ryden, Mercedes – Gerald Burns Immigration Chandler – working with Mark Egan on an article on the crisis of the children and wanted some information on verifying that ALA attorneys from Arizona are helping out on a pro bono basis.
The picture becomes all too clear. In all three Central American countries, gangs have taken over both prisons and neighborhoods, created large extortion networks, instituted a realm of violence and recruitment of young gang members, and have infiltrated innumerable departments within local government. Murder and gang-related violence have escalated rapidly to become a part of everyday life, seemingly inescapable. The risks and rewards are played out every day all along the border. Anzalduas Park, a park formerly known for bird and butterfly watching in Mission, Texas, is now known for illegal immigrant sightings. An average night will yield about 300 sightings, many of them children. Antonio Velasquez, a Guatemalan community activist in Phoenix says, “These children are running for their lives. We need to take them in as refugees.” Many of the older children made their own decision about leaving their homes due to gang activity. A common feeling among these kids is that staying in their own countries means certain death; making the risky journey to the U.S. at least offers a hope of survival thus despite clear dangers, in context, it is worth it.
If you, or a member of your family, are in need of legal help with regard to visas, immigration or naturalization and citizenship issues, or removal proceedings, the experienced immigration attorneys at Gunderson, Denton & Peterson offer a full range of immigration services.
40 N. Central Avenue, Suite 1400-1532
Phoenix, AZ 85004
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