Children arriving at our U.S. border without a parent or other adult guardian are fleeing Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador largely because of gang violence. Boys are pressured into joining gangs. Girls are pressured into the sex trade.
We know the flee North is primarily due to violence as opposed to other motivating factors. Children from Nicaragua are not fleeing to the U.S. en mass, even though Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries on Earth. To the contrary, children from these three warring regions are fleeing into Nicaragua for safety from gangs the same as they are fleeing to the U.S. Although poor, Nicaragua does not have much of a gang problem and not anywhere near the level of violence as have these other three countries.
The Republican leadership proposes to treat unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador the same as it treats unaccompanied minors from Mexico, by undergoing a credible fear test at the border stop.
Essentially, Mexican children arriving at a U.S. border are screened by a border patrol agent to determine whether the child has a credible fear of torture or political asylum as grounds for processing through the immigration court system. If the Mexican child passes the credible fear test, the child is held for further processing. If the Mexican child fails the CBP test, the child is returned to Mexico.
Currently, children from other (non-contiguous) countries are treated differently. There is no credible fear test and instead the children are held for processing through the immigration courts to determine whether or not political asylum or torture back home is a valid basis for remaining in the U.S.
Credible fear interviews are conducted without an attorney, parent, or advocate for the child. A child must be able to articulate the danger the child faces. Political asylum and torture claims are complex matters that children will generally not be able to articulate. An adult presence is important to fully explain the problems back home.
For example, how can a danger in the home country be attributable to governmental action or inaction? How do you get a girl (or boy) to reveal she was raped when she does not understand the critical importance of speaking up before a stranger? I am not an advocate of illegal immigration and I do not like scheming to take advantage of our immigration laws. However, some of the children fleeing to the U.S. have a serious problem— life threatening — and these children have difficulty navigating complex immigration rules and concepts.
Unaccompanied children need proper screening and the credible fear interview is not geared toward proper screening of minors without an advocate. The United Nations (including the U.S.) had Jordan hold refugees fleeing from Syria, and the influx of Syrians nearly bankrupted Jordan. Yet, solutions were found.
This problem with unaccompanied children appearing on our U.S. doorstep is a tiny problem by comparison, and yet for some reason it is an emotional battleground for our nation. I believe most of these children should return home, but the process needs deliberation and fairness, particularly given these are children left to make it on their own. It’s not good enough to react emotionally, but instead we should deliberate and identify humanitarian solutions and resolutions.
You are welcome to contact me if you like to discuss further.