The prestigious Pew Research Center has obtained a Homeland Security document that provides some information on the influx of children from Central America–but doesn’t fill in some important blanks.
According to Pew, the government document indicates that “of the thousands of unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S. border in recent months, many can be attributed to poverty and regional violence in three Central American countries.”
“For example, many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the U.S. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.”
According to to DHS, the number of children caught at the border has nearly doubled in less than a year.
There’s still the big unanswered question. Who or what is behind this apparent, suddenly-organized effort? After all, extreme poverty and violence have existed in these countries for years. It’s hard to argue that there was a more violent time than when the Medillin drug cartel and Pablo Escobar ruled Colombia in the 1980’s, yet were there similar reports of a giant influx of unaccompanied Colombian children at the border? The violence in some Mexican cities, such as Juarez, has reached a peak this decade–yet Mexico isn’t on the list of the top three countries sending unaccompanied children into the U.S. And the number of Mexican children coming into the U.S. illegally–while above 10,000–isn’t reported to have surged in the same fashion as it has from three Central American nations.
So to simply explain violence and poor economies as the factors pushing children into the U.S. ignores the more basic question.
The facts suggest an organized effort in these particular nations, as well as an established trafficking pipeline. It’s unlikely that tens of thousands of children could safely travel through Mexico without assistance or approval from the violent drug cartels that rule many parts of the country, as well as the tacit approval by some in the Mexican government. Indeed, if the children were to make it only as far as Mexico before being stopped, and became the Mexican government’s responsibility, one could imagine the influx might be halted rather abruptly.
If the Daily Beast is correct about the drug cartels’ involvement in the trafficking, then, by being a haven for some of the children who make it to the border, the U.S. is inadvertently serving the profit motives of the violent cartels and human traffickers, feeding the businesses of those who are moving the kids, helping them create a bigger market, more demand and higher prices.
Here are additional difficult questions with no easy answers.
Is the U.S. government’s position that those fleeing devastating conditions in their own countries should not be discouraged from doing so, even if their trafficking feeds the very cartels the U.S. has been battling for decades? Is it the U.S. government’s position that the children from any poor or violent nation need only to make it to the U.S. to receive opportunities and the possibility of staying here and being cared for?
If so, then is it fair for the U.S. to favor the children from three Central American nations where a pipeline has been established? What about South American nations where no pipeline has been established? Or African nations where poverty-struck families lack the benefit of geographic proximity? What about some Middle Eastern countries where women face daunting discrimination? Shouldn’t they be able to come to the U.S., illegally, too?
What about children who may not live in nations that are wracked by poverty and violence, but face poverty or violence in their own household. Is their personal circumstance any less destructive than that of children who live in predominantly violent or poverty-struck countries? Should they not also be permitted to come into the U.S. outside of the normal immigration process?
If the answer is yes, then how does the U.S. get them here quickly and safely, and provide adequate care for all of them? After all, the influx primarily from just three countries has already proven to cause a “humanitarian crisis.”
The U.S. at its core is a nation that opens its arms to those in need. But the latest influx–and its handling to date–raise many difficult issues.