Why are there refugees at the US southern border?


“Recent studies suggest that most of these unaccompanied children aren’t economic migrants, as many Americans might assume — they’re fleeing from threats and violence in their home countries, where things have gotten so bad that many families believe that they have no choice but to send their children on the long, dangerous journey north. They’re not here to take advantage of American social services — they’re refugees from conflict. Understanding the nature of the violence pushing them north is crucial for figuring out what to do about the child refugee crisis on our southern border.”


“Much of the violence driving thousands of unaccompanied children from Honduras to the U.S. can be traced to the past decades of U.S. military and economic interference in Honduras, including ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support for a 2009 coup, Adrienne Pine tells Dennis J Bernstein.”


“The unwanted, invading hordes ejected from a country that did not want them are actually the folks the kids now on our border are fleeing, and the country that ejected them is our own.

“That’s because the refugee cum immigration crisis now playing out all the way from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, is one that in large part has been manufactured right here in America. Ironically — or perhaps appropriately — the vicious criminal gangs that have taken over large swathes of the countries where the kids currently being detained in our border control holding cells are coming from, have their origins here in the U.S.”


“Gang violence in El Salvador and in urban areas of Guatemala has escalated dramatically in recent months since a weak truce among rival gangs has evaporated, said Elizabeth G. Kennedy, a Fulbright scholar reached Monday in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.

“”Half of them are fleeing for their lives,” she said.

[ . , . ]

“”Immigration laws have as much to do with the crisis as the conditions back home,” she said.

“She said that because of civil war and post-conflict violence, Hondurans have been able to seek asylum and be granted temporary protected status since 1998. Salvadorans have been able to gain temporary protected status since an arthquake in 2001.”


“More than 55,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have turned up at U.S. borders since October. Many of the children are unaccompanied minors, and the U.S. Border Patrol has taken them into custody, according to the Associated Press.

“Their home countries are wracked by violence related to the illegal drug trade, NPR reported.

“Honduras has the highest peacetime homicide rate of any country in the world, the Associated Press reported. In El Salvador, 2.1 percent of the population has been uprooted because of violence.”


“So what is attracting them to the United States?

“First, I have to point out to you, it’s not just the United States. That was a another red flag for us. There is an increasing trend to seek asylum in Mexico, which is much safer for them than where they are from. The number of asylum seekers in Nicaragua, in Belize, in Costa Rica, in Panama—all of that has grown 712 percent since 2008.

“This is not the normal flow. For the U.N. refugee agency to register an uptick in asylum applications in places other than the United States is a huge red flag for us. People are leaving to places where they can find safety.”

[ . . . ]

“Are these refugees? Immigrants? Does the distinction matter?

“What we learned from our empirical study was that 58 percent of the children we interviewed flagged an international-protection concern. Where we drew the line, was that these children feared return because of violence and insecurity. They feared harm to themselves, and had the single conviction that they could not be protected in their countries. So that was our most conservative lens that we could look at the numbers. We excluded entrenched poverty, we excluded everything else. So 58 percent of the kids, in a statistically significant pool of 404, we wanted to be able to extrapolate to have a significant pool, present international protection concerns.

“So what does that mean? We did not interview them [to determine refugee status]. We interviewed them to find out why they left. We did a preliminary screening which to us was enough to say these individuals presented concerns.

“Which means that if a country was to reject these people from their borders without allowing them any access to asylum protection or complementary protection processes, it actually would be in breach of the conventions.”


“But just releasing a child into the custody of a “relative” doesn’t mean the child is out of harm’s way. Back in the 1990s, the (now-defunct) Immigration and Naturalization Services found that many unauthorized Chinese immigrants were being unintentionally released into the care of relatives who turned out to be part of smuggling networks — who would, in turn, extort immigrants’ parents for payment.

“It’s not clear that the same thing is happening today with unaccompanied child migrants, but it points to the importance of strict screening procedures — and many agencies may be too strained by the influx to do proper screening. Nora Skelly, who works with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, says that HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement has rules to fingerprint and screen any relative before releasing a child. But she’s heard of cases in which HHS loosens those requirements so that kids can be released more quickly.”

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