Friday, November 14, 2014

Adolescents & the Border Crisis Part IV: Push-Pull Factors and Child Migration

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

“Putting the Child Refugees in Context.” Center for Progress. (August 2014) Retrieved from:

“Unintended consequences: 2008 anti-trafficking contributes to border crisis”, Tom Cohen (July 2014) Retrieved from:

“Obama, Senate Dems clash on border bill”, Alexander Bolton (July 2014), Retrieved from:

“Use brains, not brawn, to handle migrant crisis”, Christopher Wilson and Eric Olson (July 2014), Retrieved from:

“Immigrant Surge Rooted in Law to Curb Child Trafficking”, Carl Hulse (July 2014). Retrieved from: http:/

“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,

 [IC1]Technically, do non-U.S. citizens have rights under U.S. law?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Adolescents & the Border Crisis, Part 3: The Impact of Border Migration on U.S. Social Policies Related to Youth

Since October, nearly 63,000 youth have been apprehended attempting to enter into the United States through the Mexican border (Park, 2014). Since 2011, the number of children from Central America attempting to enter America has doubled each year (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2014). These children, labeled either unaccompanied minors (UAM) or unaccompanied alien children (UAC), are coming to the U.S. primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. They are frequently coming in an attempt to escape poverty, sexual assault, violence from gangs, kidnapping, or murder. This multi-part series of will explore the impact of border migration by unaccompanied children and youth on social policy in the U.S.

Placement with relatives in America does not end the child’s vulnerability to trafficking (Lind, 2014).  With the dramatic rise in UAC, there has been an increased pressure to get UACs out of shelters and into placement with family members as quickly as possible.  Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has stated that they do a home study for only certain categories of UAC, as well as follow up visits for at-risk children (ORR, 2013). This raises concern that a number of placements are not being adequately screened for safety.  A similar practice in the 1990s resulted in Chinese immigrants being released to people officials believed were relatives, but turned out to be part of smuggling networks. The smugglers would then extort the immigrants and their families (Lind, 2014).  Although it is still too soon to know if the same thing is happening to these UACs, from 2008-2010, 95% of confirmed labor trafficking survivors in the U.S were foreign-born (Banks & Kyckelhahn, 2011).

CBP facility in South Texas (Photo: Huston Chronicle/U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar)
Because of these compounding vulnerabilities and knowledge from the field that many UACs have been trafficked, all UACs should be screened for indicators of human trafficking once encountered at the border. The use of a standardized screening tool by trained professionals (such as the tool under development through ChildRight: New York) would identify more child survivors so they may be provided the additional protections and resources to which they are entitled. Currently, when a youth is apprehended by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer, he or she is interviewed by an officer within 48 hours to determine if he or she is eligible for protection under TVPRA.  A study completed by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) found that the majority of these interviews are focused on getting quick answers and that most of the interviews were conducted in public, in plain sight of potential traffickers.  Many times, interpreters were not made available to the children and on average the interviews lasted only about ten minutes (UNHCR, 2014).  Although CBP has stated that they have developed trainings for their officers on how to properly screen UACs, this training has not been released to the public. Additionally, there is no data available on the number of UACs identified by the CBP to be at risk of trafficking (Center for Gender & Refugee Studies & Kids in Need of Defense, 2014).

To address the vulnerability of UAC to exploitation, several steps should be taken.  First, all UACs should be screened for indicators of human trafficking by persons trained in child-sensitive interviewing.  Interviews should be given in the child’s native language in a safe place where the child can feel comfortable disclosing sensitive information.  All relatives and families that house UACs should be screened for possible safety concerns.  Home-visits and follow up visits in line with those provided to youth in foster care should be completed to ensure that all UACs are living in healthy and safe environments.  UACs should have access to legal support, including child advocates who can support them in court.  Congress should enact legislation mandating counsel for UACs legislation, such as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.  Lastly, for UACs returned to their home country, the U.S. needs to work with the home country to implement comprehensive reintegration services.  These services should focus on ensuring safety for the child when returned to their country of origin.  Ideally these services should also address the safety issues that caused the child to flee their country, to ensure that the child is not returned to danger they will need to flee again. 

- Caitlin Gallacher, ChildRight: New York Intern


Bank, D. & Kyckelhahn, T. (2011).  Characteristic of suspected human trafficking incidents, 2008-2010.  Washington, D: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) & Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). (2014). A treacherous journey: Child migrants navigating the U.S. immigration system. Retrieved from

Lind, D. (2014). Thousand of children are fleeing Central America to Texas- alone.  Retrieved from

Office of Refugee Resettlement (2013).  About unaccompanied children’s services.  Retrieved from

Park, H. (2014). Q. and A. Children at the Border.  Retrieved from

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2014).  Children on the run: Unaccompanied children leaving Central American and Mexico and the need for international protection.  Retrieved from