Central American children and adolescents at the United States border:

Humanitarian crisis and forced migration

The number of Central American migrant children and minors on the southern border of the US has grown substantially, many unaccompanied; it is a profound humanitarian crisis of a regional character.

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"For those migrants who do not die in transit and are not captured and returned immediately, a spectral existence of" invisible men "awaits them, exploitable bodies without documentation that guarantees them minimal rights. They will be tolerated, exploited and permanently threatened at the same time”. José A. Zamora, 2017


Causes and genesis of a humanitarian crisis


Recently, the number of Central American migrant children and minors on the southern border of the United States  has grown substantially. According to different media in Mexico and the US, of a few children and minors at the beginning of this year, it reached about 3,600 before mid-March, and a large part of them are unaccompanied. This is a profound humanitarian crisis of a regional character, which extends from Central America, through Mexico and to the United States (particularly on its southern border). This situation had been made invisible and caused by the years of xenophobia and racism of the Trump regime. During the previous US government and making political use of the Covid-19 pandemic (through the argument of the health emergency), there was a drastic and severe border closure. Migrants, including children and unaccompanied minors, were arrested by US authorities and immediately deported to their home countries and Mexico. As a result, there had been a decrease in the number of unaccompanied migrant minors at the southern US border. Although there is a partially different attitude from the new US government in this regard (in terms of being less anti-immigrant and xenophobic and ending the MPP, the “Stay in Mexico Program” and resuming the asylum right processes), the situation is dramatic and has a historical and structural genesis in various processes.


On the one hand, this is a result of the MPP (of the Stay in Mexico Program) of the previous US government and the effects of said program. Remember that there is a large population of thousands of Central American migrants at various points along the US / Mexico border (an estimated 60,000). On the other hand, to this are added historical / structural causes of Central American forced migration that we cannot forget (those of an economic nature such as lack of work and insufficient wages, in addition to gang violence and organized crime, and socio-environmental impacts of natural disasters). The US is jointly responsible for this crisis because it promoted neoliberal structural economic changes that for decades increased poverty and inequality in Central America. But the US also had processes of political and geopolitical interventionism in the region. For example, its support for the coup in Honduras last decade, and during the late twentieth century the support it provided for state terrorism in Guatemala and support for the counter in El Salvador. All of these processes produced the generalized and massive contexts of expulsion that force thousands of Central Americans to leave their homes and communities.


In addition, currently the effects of the pandemic are very drastic in the Central American region and in relation to the increase in the already alarming poverty and extreme poverty (especially in Honduras). And, finally, the devastating effects of the hurricanes (first Eta and then Iota), increased socio-material precariousness, poverty and unemployment. These scenarios will only increase migration.


Reopening of the detention centers for Central American children and minors


In the context of the increase in minors on the southern border of the United States, the detention centers of these populations have been reopened. However, and even despite the complex situation of the health emergency due to the Covid 19 pandemic, this action is by no means a good sign. Remember that several of these centers were closed due to abuses and human rights violations against migrants during the Trump administration, in addition to the inadequate conditions they presented in the past administration. It is necessary to reiterate that the detention of girls, boys and minors is an action that violates their rights. And, as various NGOs and pro-migrant lawyers have pointed out, there are other viable options in the face of this crisis. Here we point out only two. On the one hand, pro-migrant organizations with adequate capacity and infrastructure (churches, shelters, human rights and migration institutions, among others) can receive and temporarily house these vulnerable groups. On the other hand, there is the option that family members who are already in the United States receive these migrant children and minors.


Rights of migrant girls, boys and minors


However, in the face of this crisis, we must remember the legal frameworks and institutions that defend and watch over these populations. As UNICEF (based on the rights of the child) and various pro-migrant organizations have pointed out, migrant and refugee children and minors are highly vulnerable populations, and especially those who migrate unaccompanied. In this vein, UNICEF has reiterated a call to the countries (of origin, transit and destination), and their respective societies, to ensure expeditiously priority care and protection for children and minors in their migratory displacement.  Likewise, UNICEF indicates to the governments of the countries (of transit and destination) that these groups must continue together with their parents, relatives and / or caregivers, as well as avoid detention at all costs (for immigration reasons), and under no circumstances cause family separation. Along with this, it also establishes that the services and rights of medical care and education must be guaranteed, within a framework of non-discrimination and without violence of any kind. Finally, UNICEF is also categorical that girls, boys and minors cannot be deported to their country of origin if there are risks and threats to their physical integrity and life there.


- Guillermo Castillo, lecturer for undergraduate and postgraduate courses at UNAM, Mexico.



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