Update on Central American Children Migrants

On Sunday, September 14, Angela Sanbrano, President of the Board of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), spoke briefly at the 11:00 AM service, outlining the continuing needs of the Central American children who migrated unaccompanied to the United States, and the efforts of CARECEN on their behalf.
CARECEN has been working on behalf of Central Americans in the Los Angeles community for over thirty years, providing legal assistance, advocacy, organizing skills, and education programs. Its current work to assist the unaccompanied children migrants includes finding lawyers who can provide guidance and represent them during their hearings before an immigration judge. Legal representation often makes a difference in enabling children to obtain asylum or another protected status in the United States; those without such assistance are much more likely to be deported. There are recent reports that several children deported back to their home countries have been killed by drug gangs on their return. 
Migration to the United States without documents is extremely dangerous, as demonstrated in the documentary Which Way Home, shown at UUSM in August. Many come through Mexico riding on top of la bestia - the beast – freight trains through Mexico to the U.S. border, where they risk falling and losing a limb or even their lives, as well as robbery, extortion, and/or rape by drug gangs. But the risks of remaining in – or returning to - their countries of origin are much greater.
 While children migrate for a number of reasons, including poverty in their home countries, perceived opportunities in the United States, and family reunification, the recent upsurge in the number of children corresponds to the growing presence of drug cartels and the growth of gang and drug related violence in the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Today, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world; El Salvador and Guatemala are fourth and fifth. In some cases, drug gangs have taken over schools and entire neighborhoods; students and others are submitted to relentless pressure to join the gangs or work for cartels with threats of killing them or members of their families if they refuse. Several young migrants report that members of their families and/or friends have in fact been killed, in some cases in their presence. 
The United States bears considerable responsibility for creating conditions in Central America giving rise to violence, including support for repressive governments; economic policies favoring corporations at the expense of national interests; and drug-related policies, including resistance to the legalization of drug possession, as well as the trafficking of guns and other weapons from the United States into Mexico and other countries, and anti-drug policies in Latin America that have tended to simply displace drug trafficking from one region to another. The United States is the major market for drugs; guns and other arms from the United States have aggravated the violence that has accompanied the growth of the cartels in these countries. In addition, many of the gangs heavily involved in the drug trade, such as the Mara Salvatrucha, have their origins on the streets of Los Angeles and other U.S.
While some U.S. officials have recognized that many of the children as well as other immigrants are fleeing conditions from the home countries, efforts to improve these conditions should include revisiting U.S. policies and their impact in the region, including trade policy and the drug war.
The response in the United States to the unaccompanied migrant children has been mixed. Officially, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, originally passed in 2000 and amended by the Bush administration in 2008, entitles all unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries (i.e., other than Mexico and Canada) to a hearing before an immigration judge to determine whether they are eligible for asylum or other types of protection. However, in its efforts to discourage further migration, the administration has sought to facilitate deportation of the children, in part by eliminating this protection, a move that has been resisted to date. At the local level, reactions have ranged from strong opposition and rejection of their presence, epitomized by the ugly demonstrations in Murietta, to the more welcoming policy of some cities. In the case of Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti has met with various advocacy groups to provide various types of assistance to the young immigrants, including housing and food, transportation to enable them to reunite with distant families, and legal aid, including access to lawyers who can represent them in court proceedings.
Although the children migrants from Central America are no longer in the news, they continue to need humanitarian and legal assistance. During September our non-pledge offerings have gone to CARECEN (Central American Resource Center); one can also send a donation directly to CARECEN at 2845 West Seventh Street, Los Angeles, CA 90005, or through its website (www.carecen-la.org), indicating it is for unaccompanied minors.