News surrounding the crisis at the border has shed light on the dramatic increase of immigrants fleeing their countries of origin. The number of unaccompanied minors has grown from 6,800 between 2004 and 2011 to 13,000 in 2012, and 24,000 in 2013. This year, that number will reach almost 90,000. According to these estimates, the number of unaccompanied young people coming to the United States has increased by more than a 1000 percent in ten years. However, even with the dramatic increase, the unaccompanied minors who have fled their countries of origin only account for 0.15 percent of the foreign population and 0.4 percent of the population of immigrants fleeing from Central America.
Some people believe the surge was caused by Section 235 of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), which established additional protections for unaccompanied minors, while distinguishing between arrivals from contiguous countries such as Canada and Mexico and non-contiguous countries such as those in Central America. Both Democrats and Republicans have demanded that Section 235 be revised to reduce eligibility for these protections. However, the TVPRA was passed in 2008; the number of unaccompanied minors remained consistent until 2011. A dramatic increase did not begin to occur until 2013. Therefore, the passage of the Act and increase in unaccompanied minors do not seem to be directly correlated.
Furthermore, revising TVPRA would expedite the screening and hearing process in ways that could result in detrimental effects on unaccompanied minors. The procedures within the TVPRA are enacted to guarantee due process, security and protection against human trafficking by ensuring immigration court removal proceedings and the ability to consult with an advocate. Instead of eliminating these protections[IC1] , the government needs to better train Border Patrol, judges, and agencies to accurately assist and identify human trafficking victims. Proper training and employing additional agencies to identify and assist human trafficking victims will allow this process to move swiftly and efficiently, while protecting potential victims.
However, providing proper training for U.S. courts and agencies would only address part of the issue and not the root cause. More than 70 percent of the unaccompanied minors are from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. A United Nations report ranked Honduras as the murder capital of the world, with 90 homicides per 100,000 people. Honduras is also a source and transit country for sex trafficking and forced labor. Honduran girls are sexually trafficked within the country by gangs or criminal organizations. The groups also exploit young people by forcing them to transport drugs, engage in extortion, or become hit men. Extreme violence and exploitation has led more than 16,500 unaccompanied Honduran children to travel to the United States. Corruption and inadequate law enforcement allows the violence to persist. Although gang violence and exploitation is rampant in Honduras, there are no reports of law enforcement officials investigating cases of children who may be exploited by gangs or criminal organizations.
A similar situation is found in El Salvador and Guatemala. Although El Salvador experiences gang and gender violence that may lead to trafficking, the government does not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. In Guatemala, children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking within the country, in Mexico, and by U.S. gangs who recruit children for criminal acts.
The border crisis is a humanitarian crisis. Children often migrate because of the fear of gang recruitment, sexual assault, forced labor, and sexual exploitation. The TVPRA procedures were enacted to prevent the violation of children’s rights. If Congress makes revisions that limit the due process protections and expedite deportation, the U.S. will no longer consider the best interest of the child. In fact, the revision or “cutting back” of protection procedures may put these children in grave danger. If TVPRA is to be reformed, it should be reformed to benefit and improve circumstances for all unaccompanied children.
In August, President Obama requested over $3 billion to combat the flood of unaccompanied minors. However, the requested budget primarily addressed issues in the U.S. and not the violence and exploitation within countries of origin. This does not provide a comprehensive solution to appropriately curtail the issue of unaccompanied minors. Despite the President’s request, the House passed a bill reducing the budget to $659 million with provisions that would allow for easier deportation of immigrants from Central America. The bill did not pass the Senate because the proposed legislation did not address the dangers faced by child migrants sent back to their home countries. Any bill that is passed must address and improve the current state of unaccompanied youth from both contiguous and noncontiguous states, not compromise the safety of one migrant group to put both at risk in their countries of origin.
-Sausha Cutler, IOFA Program Development Intern
-Sausha Cutler, IOFA Program Development Intern
“Putting the Child Refugees in Context.” Center for Progress. (August 2014) Retrieved from: http://theyoungcenter.org/news/putting-the-child-refugees-in-context/
“Unintended consequences: 2008 anti-trafficking contributes to border crisis”, Tom Cohen (July 2014) Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/15/politics/immigration-unintended-consequences/
“Obama, Senate Dems clash on border bill”, Alexander Bolton (July 2014), Retrieved from: http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/211933-obama-senate-dems-clash-over-border-crisis
“Use brains, not brawn, to handle migrant crisis”, Christopher Wilson and Eric Olson (July 2014), Retrieved from: http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/211991-use-brains-not-braun-to-handle-migrant-crisis
“Immigrant Surge Rooted in Law to Curb Child Trafficking”, Carl Hulse (July 2014). Retrieved from: http:/nyti.ms/1n2bMSf
“The Refugee Crisis at the U.S. Border: Separating Fact from Fiction”. National Immigrant Justice Center. (June 2014).
“Trafficking in Person Report: June 2014”, Office of the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs and Bureau of Public Affairs (June 2014).
Wong, Tom K. “Statistical Analysis Show that Violence, Not Deferred Action, Is Behind the Surge of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border,” Center for American Progress, July 8, 2014, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2014/07/08/93370/statistical-analysis-shows-that-violence-not-deferred-action-is-behind-the-surge-of-unaccompanied-children-crossing-the-border/.