Why Child Migrants Head to the US

By Eulich, Whitney | The Christian Science Monitor, August 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Why Child Migrants Head to the US


Eulich, Whitney, The Christian Science Monitor


The dramatic increase in unaccompanied child migrants crossing the US-Mexican border this year didn't develop overnight. What can be done to both keep the more than 57,000 migrant children from Central America safe and halt the flow?

What happened in Central America recently that led to the surge of child migrants?El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have long had high rates of violence, struggling economies, and lack of opportunity, all of which tend to "push" emigration. Over the past decade, the increased presence of street gangs and organized crime have further exacerbated the situation.

"It's not like there was a golden age" in the Northern Triangle, as this region is called, says Dana Frank, an expert on Honduran history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Civil wars raged across Central America throughout the 1970s and '80s, and economic inequality persists.

These three main countries from which the children are fleeing are among the nations with the top five murder rates in the world (along with Belize and Venezuela), according to the most recent United Nations data. In some cases, such as Guatemala, the homicide rate has actually declined slightly in recent years. But crimes like extortion have become "widespread and intolerable," says Cynthia Arnson, the Latin America director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "Everyone is hit, down to the person at the bottom of the informal economy selling chewing gum."

There are also "pull" factors drawing migrants to the United States. These include family already residing there and "what appears to be a very deliberate effort by human trafficking rings to spread rumors" about US immigration policy for children, Ms. Arnson says.

Who are these children and why are they coming only to the US?Those counted as child migrants are under the age of 18, and some are coming with children of their own. Many have traversed the porous and increasingly dangerous Guatemalan-Mexican border, ridden deadly freight trains across Mexico, or hired human traffickers to lead them north. All have suffered some kind of trauma, whether it's extreme weather conditions, threats by gangs, hunger, rape, stress, or injury.

Almost half of the children from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico recently interviewed by the United Nations Refugee Agency fled their homes due to violence.

Most of the unaccompanied minors are teens, but those aged 12 and under are part of the fastest growing group crossing the US-Mexican border, according to the Pew Research Center. This cohort more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, reaching 7,461 between October and June this year. Salvador Gutierrez, an Americas policy officer for the International Organization forMigration says he's heard reports that armed gangs are targeting children more frequently in Northern Triangle nations.

About 36 percent of the unaccompanied children the UN interviewed had at least one parent residing in the US. Not all of the minors cited this as their primary reason for migrating, however.

Furthermore, applications for asylum in neighboring countries such as Costa Rica and Mexico have shot up in recent years. …

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