Walking Alone—Unaccompanied Minors on the US-Mexico Border
If they make it as far as northern Mexico, they’ve almost succeeded. And if they can avoid drug traffickers, thieves, and the Border Patrol, they’re in.
Fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, thousands of minors from Mexico and Central America are showing up on the southern U.S. border. The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 38,833 unaccompanied minors in fiscal year 2013, a 59 percent increase from the previous year.
While many of these minors are from various Mexican states, a large majority are Central American. These minors that risk their lives crossing the border do so for different reasons. Some try to reunite with family members, while others seek greater economic opportunity—but economic conditions alone certainly don’t explain the recent surge in unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Rather, many of these governments have completely lost their control of the state, leading to sharp increases in violence. The minors that are turning up on the southern U.S. border are fleeing this violence, which has created a humanitarian crisis for these countries as well as the United States.
Officials also report that misinformation about the deportation of minors encourages these children to make their way across the border. The White House states that this information is deliberately disseminated by criminal networks to encourage illegal crossing and smuggling.
To add to the problem, law enforcement in the United States has struggled to accommodate the large influx of minors into their custody. While the majority of minors from Mexico are turned around at the border, minors from other Central American countries are referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who either reunite the children with a guardian or place them in a temporary shelter while they await their immigration proceedings. Unfortunately the quantity and quality of holding facilities for these children is inadequate to handle this sudden influx of minors, and many live in harsh conditions with little access to healthcare. For example, in May, the influx of minors was so unexpected that officials relocated hundreds of children to dormitories at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
A situation that began with poverty and political violence in Central America has turned into a humanitarian crisis for the United States. Our government is facing a challenge that must be met with wider systematic immigration policy changes and cooperation from these Latin American countries.