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Neglected Migrant Children In The US: The Bigger Picture

Neglected Migrant Children detained in what have been called squalid conditions and deaths on the US-Mexico border, have brought the treatment of migrants into focus in the US. Lawyers who visited a border patrol facility in Clint, Texas described the cells where children are kept as overcrowded and unclean. Children are locked up without adult supervision or sufficient access to food or showers.

Neglected Migrant children In The US

Border authorities said they are trying their best to provide the best care possible, and they are appealing for additional funding to assist the children, some of whom entered the US independently as well as those who have been separated from their families. The question which many people ask is why this is happening, and why now? There are three key pieces of context that will help you understand.

1) Growing migrant numbers

Each year, the numbers of people from Latin America who are seeking protection in the US and being held at the border are increasing. There is no tangible reason why people are migrating from Central America and Mexico to US. But there are a few that are cited regularly.

  • Violence

As a result of violence, people leave their countries under threat. They leave behind their homes, relatives and friends to seek asylum in other countries as refugees. Maritza Flores, a citizen of El Salvador was among the 1,200 people who travelled in a so-called “caravan” of migrants north through Mexico in 2018, headed for the US border.

In an interview with BBC, Ms Flores said “most people think we left our countries because we are criminals. This assumption is wrong, we’re not criminals, we are living in fear in our own countries. All we want is a place where our children can run free, where they’re not afraid to go out to the shops, parks and other places. In 2016, El Salvador and Honduras had the two highest homicide rates in the world, according to the UN figures.

According to research, there has been a significant increase in the number of people traveling to the US over the years due to fear of persecution by gangs like MS-13. This is not the only reason people from Central America migrate to the US. Economic volatility, natural disasters and the desire to join family members have also been cited by aid groups – there is evidence which shows that it is a growing factor, and a credible one.

Neglected Migrant Children In The US: The Higher Picture 

Chart showing how border apprehensions have fallen since 2000

As the number of people requesting credible fear interviews has increased, so too has the number of people being detained at the US border.

  • Escaping poverty

According to UN survey, a group of migrants in January 2019 were reported to be fleeing violence. 68.3% said they had to change homes as a result of incidents related to violence or insecurity in the preceding 12 months. However, 68% also said they were moving for better labour opportunities, and 12% for education opportunities. US is one of the richest country with the world’s largest economy (by GDP), while countries in Central America are among the poorest in the world. Those entering the US in search of greener pasture are not considered refugees.

According to US and international law which currently says that, people can seek asylum if they fear persecution at home on the basis of their race, political opinion, nationality, religion or the fact that they belong to a particular social group.

2) The main players and their motivation

In order to understand the zero-tolerance policy on immigration, it also helps to understand who is behind it. On 16 June, 2015, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the White House, he set the tone for how he would later approach the presidency.

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

In 2018, Trump created a “zero tolerance” policy to persecute any adult who tries to cross the US-Mexico border illegally as well as those who plan to seek asylum in the US.

Since he became the president, his main focus is on immigration, repeating many of the same claims he made on the day he assumed office.

3) The law and the loopholes

Is it by law to separate families and detain children in poor conditions? The policy of family separations at the border ended after the initial outcry in 2018 with the president signing and executive order, then a judge separately ordering the practice to end. The question still remains – why are some families still being separated?

According to New York Times, 700 families had been separated in the past year through loopholes. In the court order – when parents are charged with a criminal conviction or a disease, or when it is an aunt, uncle, or sibling accompanying the child. Some parents may also be under 18 and will be detained. Another condition under which people are being kept is lack of clarity in the law. A court decision was made in 1997 which is known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. The US government must follow this order when it comes to treating migrant children. The Department of Justice has moved for the amendment of the agreement to enable it hold children for longer.

Unaccompanied children are by law supposed to be detained for only up to 72 hours. But several reports say many are being kept in detention centres – often in squalid conditions – for much longer, as government agencies struggle to process the vast number of people being held at the border.