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.”

Mexican Reconquista

There is an interesting Wikipedia article about Reconquista, what Professor Charles Truxillo refers to as Republica del Norte. I was reading about this in American Nations by Colin Woodard (where he labels it El Norte). I highly recommend the book, by the way.

Here is the map that goes along with that article:

File:Hispanic population in the United States and the former Mexican-American border.png

The Hispanic and Latino American population in the United States in 2010 and the Mexican-American border of 1836 in red.

And here is the map of New Spain, specifically the North American territory of the Spanish Empire:

File:Viceroyalty of New Spain 1800 (without Philippines).png

New Spain 1800 (not including the island territories of the Pacific Ocean).

If that doesn’t convince one of the persistence of culture, I don’t know what will. Mexicans aren’t invading America. Americans invaded Mexico (and the former Spanish Empire).

More than Woodard’s book, the reason I was thinking of this is because I just got back from visiting the Southwest and California. I took a family road trip with my family. We arrived in Southern California where we visited some of my mother’s family and headed up the coast to the Bay Area where we visited other family from my father’s side.

On the way up the coast, we happened upon a formerly Danish town, Solvang. It was interesting to discover that it was settled by some Danish from Iowa and the Midwest. However, they settled the land which was before that was a Mexican land grant and before that part of the Spanish Empire. There is a Catholic Mission there, Mission Santa Inés. The mission, along with many other missions, was created as part of Spain’s attempt to maintain its frontier territory.

Today, the mission is a Catholic Church that is still being used by those of Mexican/Spanish ancestry. We happened to be visiting when they were having an outdoor ceremony. There was a procession going on and they were singing in Spanish. We stepped inside and you could feel how old the place was, how old the faith was even. Spanish Catholics have been worshipping Jesus in North America longer than British have had colonies here.

My mom’s family came to California in the 1950s. They are Evangelicals and belong to a mega-church. There are lots of mega-churhes in southern California. We went to a church function. There was a lot of emotion in the singing, but later when visiting the mission I realized how shallow that emotion felt compared the ancient faith of Spanish Catholicism.

It is hard to explain in words. Entering that mission, there was a depth to the place. Part of it was just architectural. It was a place that was built to last, unlike most modern churches. I got the feeling of a faith that was built to last, unlike many Evangelicals who barely can suppress their anticipation for the End Times. I got that sense of depth most clearly when I gazed upon a statue of St. Anthony and baby Jesus which was of Spanish origin and even older than the mission.

The United States is a very young country. We Americans often don’t have much appreciation for the past. We can be naive and superficial in what we think we understand about the world we live in. Almost everything in human history is older than this country… and all of that remains in the background, sometimes emerging to the foreground when we are paying attention or when events in society force us to notice.

Correction (6/13/13): I incorrectly stated Alan Taylor as the author of American Nations. The actual author is Colin Woodard. Alan Taylor, however, has written a not dissimilar book about early settlement patterns: American Colonies.