Monday, October 15, 2012

New Report: Unnacompanied Minors on the Rise in Central America

The Women's Refugee Commission has released a new report on unaccompanied minors entitled,
"Forced from Home: The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America". According to the report, the number of child migrants apprehended traveling to the US from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador has almost doubled .

The research conducted by the WRC confirms that the continuing problem of gang violence, coupled with heavy-handed tactics of police that tend to consider all youngsters potential gang members, has led to the upswing and created a "lost generation." In addition, girls are at a particular disadvantage since they are vulnerable to both gang violence and gender-based violence. Although there is also poverty in these countries, the majority of children seem to be fleeing from violence.
The conditions in Central America have deteriorated to such a point that, when the WRC asked the children if they would risk the dangerous journey north through Mexico all over again now that they had direct knowledge of its risks, most replied that they would. They said that staying in their country would guarantee death, and that making the dangerous journey would at least give them a chance to survive. Many of them expressed a longing for their homelands, stating that they would not have left but for fear for their lives (at 7).
Since the conditions in these countries don't seem to the changing (and let's recall that the US has contributed to the Central American gang problem significantly) it makes sense for the Government to adjust certain measures to ensure the human rights of these children are protected.

The report outlines a number of ways for the government to improve its response, but I would like to emphasize one in particular: unnacompanied minors are not entitled to legal assistance or lawyers, and often have to defend themselves from deportation in court. This is just patently unfair and should be the first thing to change. When a child's life is in the balance, he or she should have a better shot than an elementary grasp of a foreign legal system and 15 minutes in front of an impatient judge.

The entire report is worth a read, and is available for download here.

Read More:
 Gangs without Borders (SFGate)
National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children
Gang-Based Asylum Claims (Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota)

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