by Monica Petersen, guest blogger
You won’t hear about it in sound bites of coverage on the evening news, but every American should understand these seven facts about the 63,000+ kids that “showed up in the backyard” and need their plight acknowledged.
- Illicit markets thrive where licit markets have been destroyed. Despite the façade of “free-trade” in Central America (or anywhere, for that matter), international trade is far from free flowing. Economic development policies between countries of the global North and South have favored Northern profits and the United States for decades. This has resulted in massive inequality of worldwide wealth and acute global poverty. Many Latin American economies attest to this. Where “free-trade” policies have collapsed the legal and formal markets of local economies, illicit and informal markets will fill the economic void as a necessity of human survival. Weapons, narcotics, endangered plants and wildlife, humans, and other illicitly traded commodities are advantageous to developing economies because regulated, domestic exports (such as auto parts, factory garments or agricultural crops) have been devalued to the point they are no longer competitive on the global market. Illicit markets are the natural comparative advantage for sustaining local livelihoods, and this is apparent in the homelands of border youth and children.
- Criminal gangs often establish the supply niches for these illicit markets. Some are highly organized and violent cartels but most are loosely based. Minors in Central American conflict zones are at a higher risk for various types of child trafficking. Youth and children trafficked for gang soldiering and/or drug mules are an increased concern in the present context. Returning minors at the border to their homelands subjects them to these risks of human trafficking. Individuals caught in repeated cycles of fleeing and trafficking are common when violence and poverty occur together, making repatriation to these regions an unsustainable solution.
- Hasty deportations of unaccompanied Central American minors violate international children’s rights.The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child outlines these child-specific rights and legal protections for anyone under the age of eighteen. Further, the current position of Congress and the Obama administration – to overhaul the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and deny fair trials that recognize refugee, asylee and trafficking victim statuses – is unacceptable for a nation claiming to lead the global fight against trafficking in persons.
- The international principle of non-refoulment is being disregarded by the United States government. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines “non-refoulment” as the obligation of states to allow territorial access to refugees and asylees seeking safety from life threatening risks in their countries of origin. Returning border youth to documented violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is another significant U.S. violation of international law. In the modern era, “forced” and “willing migration” are almost never clearly defined categories, but U.S. immigration policies typically insist upon the later. This undermines the human rights of fleeing children – who are still owed due legal process regardless of whether they are undocumented.
- The U.S. has a sixty-year history of provoking regional instability in Central America. The complexity of this has included crippling Cold War policies, CIA backed coups, civil wars instigated and funded by the U.S. government, and the infamously chaotic War on Drugs. Gangs have flourished as a result of the illicit market niches created by sixty years of political-economic strife, and present levels of violence in these countries are deeply rooted in this historic trauma. Still, the U.S. continues to ignore the realities Central American youth and children are faced with as a result of its aggravating (often illegal) involvement there.
- Research overwhelmingly shows increased border militarization is an ineffective, inhumane solution for stopping migrant flows everywhere in the world. The current solution to quell youth flooding the border is a request for emergency funds from Congress. The funding would provide badly needed health and human resources for fleeing Central American youth. However, more than half of the requested $3.7 billion will fund an impressive boost in U.S. border patrols, surveillance, expedited immigration courts and anti-immigration campaigns – all proven to be inadequate controls in the long term. Completely open borders would not be sustainable without addressing root causes either. Nevertheless, two billion dollars toward creating fair-trade markets and formal employment opportunities in Central America (rather than creating more U.S. border military jobs) would be more likely to have a lasting effect on stabilizing the region.
- “Border Children” is a one-dimensional label. Perhaps necessary for categorical references, it is critical to remember that each one of these migrant youth is an individual human being. They represent diverse identities, experiences, resistances and courage in their individual life journeys. Their futures need to be considered valuable to our world and they must be supported as whole people with equal human rights.
The United States has yet to develop an immigration strategy that will appropriately address the interdependent forces behind what is now a worldwide phenomenon – the largest, global displacement of human beings in all of history. That’s a big statement for U.S. leadership to continue neglecting. Awareness of the tremendous underpinnings of the current border crisis is a vital first step for the American public to take. Without citizen demands for policy reforms – of both a broken immigration system and flawed model of international development – it is unlikely the entrenched roots of Central American oppression will shift within U.S. bureaucracy. The youth at the border are merely one casualty of this.
*Monica Petersen graduated in 2014 with an MA in International Development from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. She is currently a research intern at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking in Denver and a research assistant for The Human Trafficking Center at DU. This blog does not necessarily reflect the position of any other person(s) or organization(s), and is the author’s work alone.