migrant children

The U.S. government announced on August 4 that it would be closing three separate emergency shelters designed to house the rapid influx of unaccompanied migrant children arriving from Central America. The shelters, run by Health and Human Services (HHS) and located on military bases, are planning on closing due to waning numbers of children crossing the border and an increasing capacity at other, more permanent shelters.

One shelter at Fort Still in Oklahoma closed on August 8, with the other two shelters located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas and Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme, California set to close in the next two to eight weeks.

The migrant children were being held at the bases thanks to a 2008 law dictating that any unaccompanied children from countries not bordering the U.S. must be handed over to HHS within 72 hours of being apprehended. It has been estimated that around 7,700 children had been housed at the three bases, with the average stay lasting 35 days.

Most of the children are originally from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, but have come from other Central American countries. The majority of those living at the shelters have found themselves fleeing their home countries due to an increased instability in the region. This lack of safety is largely due to a combination of increased gang violence and deeply entrenched levels of extreme poverty. However, it is impossible to attribute one particular cause to the massive increase in children attempting to enter the U.S.

Unaccompanied migrant children crossing the U.S. border hit a peak during June when it was estimated that as many as 2,000 children were crossing per week, but the amount has since tapered off. The last estimate was around 500 per week in Mid-July. An estimate from the Obama administration say that a total amount of child immigrants could hit 90,000 by September.

– Andre Gobbo

Sources: New York Times, PBS, BBC
Photo: Raw Story

The recent surge of immigrant children across the U.S.-Mexico border has caused a wave of anger and criticism of the Obama Administration from those who are opposed to immigrants who enter the country illegally.

Despite the fact that President Obama recently asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to address border control, Senator Ted Cruz (R- TX) recently accused the President and fellow Democrats of “doing nothing” to stem the flow of immigrants, as well as holding immigrant children for ransom with promises of amnesty.

Cruz’s accusations come in response to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) recent comment that the southwestern border is already secure. The comment angered Cruz, who said that Reid should visit the border himself and then decide whether or not it is secure.

Congress is currently debating the President’s request for $3.7 billion. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said in a press conference that he is not optimistic about the House coming to an agreement but that they will continue to discuss it just the same.

House Republicans think $3.7 billion is too much money, but Democrats believe that the investment needs to be made in order to see a positive change and that trying to accomplish the same goals with less money will not be successful.

House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also stated that House Democrats do not agree with the Republican desire to make changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law. Currently the law treats unaccompanied children from Mexico differently than unaccompanied children from other Central and South American countries. The law was passed in order to protect immigrant children from sex traffickers and requires that hearings be held for children of non-neighboring countries.

This often leads to these children being housed in the U.S. indefinitely, whereas Mexican children are more likely to be immediately turned away at the border. Republicans would like to see the bill altered so that all unaccompanied children are treated in the same manner.

The problem with court hearings for immigrant children is that courts are so backed up that it can take years for a hearing to take place. Generally, while the children wait for their hearing, they will stay with family or friends, go to school and begin to feel like they belong in America.

When people in Central and South America hear how much easier it is for minors to move to the U.S. than it is for adults, more and more children are sent. Republicans hope that altering this law will result in fewer children journeying north to the border, but Democrats claim that this could be potentially harmful to children who travel a long way.

Between 2002 and 2013, Congress increased spending on border control by 300 percent but only increased immigration court funding by 70 percent, resulting in inefficient court systems. It also begs the question whether or not increased funding for border control is effective or if the government should invest that money elsewhere.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: Politico 1, Politico 2, CNN

Dangerous Roads
A recent study by the University of Michigan has found that Africa, Latin America and the Middle East host the world’s most dangerous roads, and that traffic accidents in developing nations claim more victims than in wealthier countries.

Similar conclusions have recently been drawn by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) which specifically examined this year’s mortality rates due to traffic accidents in Latin America. The FIA study reports that Brazil has the worst record, at 20 traffic-related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

FIA regional representative Leandro Perillo of Argentina observes that “the biggest problem we face [in Latin America] is the lack of enforcement of the rules.”

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) sees dangerous roads as a serious development issue in Latin America, reporting that “at 17 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, this region’s roadway fatality rate is nearly double that of higher income countries.”

Leading reasons for this discrepancy besides lax law enforcement include roadways clogged with bicycles, motorcycles and all around bad driving. Anyone who has traveled throughout Latin America understands that traffic lights, lane markers and warning signs are more like suggestions than rules. Poor infrastructure, including the infamous baches (potholes that many times resemble sinkholes) and lomadas (mountainous, unmarked speed bumps,) can also play a part in driving accidents.

Automobile wrecks take more lives in Latin America each day than does HIV/AIDS, and road incidents kill 100,000 people every year in Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, car crashes have become the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 29.

Injuries due to poor roads and bad drivers also have a high social and economic cost. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Latin America loses two percent of its GDP to traffic accidents each year.

Speaking on the importance of road safety in Latin America, IDB Transport Division Chief Nestor Roa states that “when it comes to improving road safety, isolated efforts will only get us so far. Curbing our region’s high traffic death rates requires making this issue a priority for our national development agendas and committing everyone to achieve this goal.”

The IDB is becoming more involved in the region’s transportation situation, performing vehicle evaluations and overseeing the design of better roadways. The institution states that successful confrontation of this issue will require “the coordination and collaboration of virtually all sectors of society, from governments to schools, NGOs, motor vehicle manufacturers, drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians.”

Although road safety is not typically seen as a central development concern, addressing this issue will help pave the way to a safer and healthier future for developing nations.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Global Post, University of Michigan, Inter-American Development Bank
Photo: GravityBolivia

unaccompanied minors
Members of the GOP have insisted that President Obama’s $3.7 billion immediate spending demand to curtail the flow of children across the U.S. border is too costly.

Republicans want to pass legislation that would accelerate the deportation of unaccompanied minors. Since the end of 2013, more than 40,000 children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have turned themselves over to officials at the border.

Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, insists that the best way to stop the flow of children is for them to be returned to their families in their homeland. He stated that it would discourage families and traffickers from sending children to the U.S. border.

While McCain agreed that many of the children are escaping danger and violence at home, he also claimed, “We cannot have an unending stream of children, whether it’d be from Central America or any place else, to come into our country with all of the strains and pressures that it puts on our capabilities.”

The legislation that Republicans want to introduce would allow Central American minors to be deported more quickly. Unaccompanied minors from any country would be able to have a hearing within seven days of their processing by the Human Services and the Department of Health and Human Services. An immigration judge would rule within three days whether the child could stay or would have to be deported.

The Obama administration has agreed to give support for laws that will speed up deportation proceedings, even though prominent congressional Democrats are against it.

Representative Mike McCaul, R-Texas, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, stated that Republicans are contemplating a limited emergency funding bill that would supply aid through the end of the fiscal year.

Representative Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky and House Appropriations Chairman, told reporters that the current bill was excessive, but did not comment on what funding level the committee seeks.

A new poll reported that there is broad public disapproval of both President Obama and Republican congressmen’s handling of the flow of unaccompanied minors at the southern border. In fact 58 percent of Americans, including 54 percent of Latinos, disapprove of Obama’s management of the situation.

66 percent disapprove of the GOP’s handle on the crisis of unaccompanied minors.

The administration’s attitude towards this crisis is also facing opposition from Democrats and immigrant rights organizations who are afraid that deporting the children will put them at risk of returning to dangerous conditions in their home countries.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: USA Today, The Washington Post
Photo: ABC News

illegal immigration
The United States government announced that it is increasing its foreign aid budget to deal with the recent surge of illegal immigration, especially of minors. Since October 2013 the U.S. border patrol has reported 52,000 children illegally crossing the Mexican-United States border. The majority of these children come all the way from Central America in an attempt to escape not only poverty, but also violence.

There is often a direct correlation between poverty and violence, as more and more people will turn toward theft and gangs as their  economic situations become desperate. The U.S. government’s USAID program will feed a total of $93 million dollars into Central America to improve citizen security in the countries that result in the highest number of immigrants, these being Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The money will target crime prevention, youth involvement in gangs and support for local law enforcement. Some of the money will also go toward repatriating Central Americans who are returned to their home countries.

The goal of this increase in foreign aid is to create environments that Central Americans will want to live in instead of run away from. Building secure and prosperous societies that Central Americans can be proud of will result in a lower percentage of the Central American population making the treacherous journey northward.

The increasing number of immigrants is concerning because making it to America is no easy feat. The road is long, hard and dangerous, and many of the children crossing the border are not accompanied by adults. For people to decide that this harrowing experience is worth the risk, conditions in their home countries must be extreme.

However, the especially high number of immigrants is also the result of the “coyotes” who smuggle people into America for a price that is often higher than the immigrants can afford. Many of the recent illegals tell similar stories of coyotes who made promises of U.S. residency due to a new immigration reform. Spokespeople from the White House have stated that this reform does not exist. Coyotes are well known for lying, scamming and taking advantage of desperate travelers. The president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, has expressed enthusiasm in working with the U.S. government to support legal immigration that is safe and orderly, and not the experience that is given by the coyotes.

Opponents of the government’s foreign aid policy in Central America include the police of southern Texas that deal with illegals on a daily basis. They claim they cannot afford the time it will take to see if this new structure works. They fear they are running out of energy and options when it comes to illegal immigrants and the government should take more immediate action.

While President Obama dismissed House Speaker John Boehner’s call to send the National Guard to the border, the Obama Administration is brining in more lawyers and judges to the immigration courts to speed up processes there, as well as an expansion of detention facilities to house the increasing number of immigrants while they await trial.

-Taylor Lovett

Sources: CBS, WBUR
Photo: Flickr

sala negra
Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez is pushing the bounds of traditional media in a project called Sala Negra that seeks to shed light on violence and instability in Central America. His project is an offshoot of digital San Salvador-based media outlet El Faro (elfaro.net,) which claims to be the first exclusively online newspaper in Latin America.

Sala Negra has quickly become the center of investigative crime reporting in Central America. Martínez, the project’s director, says that the reality of Latin America is so complex that in order to get to the bottom of what is happening there, every rule of the traditional media must be broken.

The digital venture, which began in 2010, digs up information on violent events in the region in the hopes of reaching a more thorough understanding of why 2 million Central Americans leave their homes for the United States every year, crossing through Mexico’s treacherous territory and enduring countless other difficulties.

Sala Negra is staffed by five reporters, three photographers and one documentarian. Martínez jokes that the fast food industry would never approve of the project’s pace, as each member of the team works on only five in-depth reports each year. The site is driven by quality rather than quantity.

In 2013, Sala Negra released a book called “Crónicas Negras.” The publication is a compilation of 18 of the best investigative pieces from Sala Negra’s first year. Topics revolve around the gang activity, deportations and civil wars that have caused so much turmoil in modern-day Central America. It thoroughly examines the weak states and strong organized crime networks that cause havoc in the most violent countries in the region – El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.

The strategy of Sala Negra is to move away from fast, sensational news and toward in-depth, investigative reporting. Martínez articulates that this kind of reporting is desperately needed in the region as profound, investigative journalism is extremely scarce, especially in Central America.

In the introduction to “Crónicas Negras,” Sala Negra admits that there are no reliable numbers for those killed in the everyday war being fought in Central America. There are no formal borders, nor does the war have a name. Yet, the text laments, it is the worst war because the people who fight in it have forgotten the value of life for being so in love with death.

Journalists like Martínez and his colleagues at Sala Negra embody honorable, responsible journalism. Their mission is to uncover the truth behind violence and migrant flows in and out of Central America in order to know how to move forward and bring a bit of justice to such a tumultuous area.

— Kayla Strickland

Sources: Sala NegraEl Faro
Photo: Starmedia

When people are asked to picture Latin America, an image of poverty usually comes to mind. Yet while it is true that Latin America has historically been a region of high rates of poverty and income inequality, income inequality has in fact declined in 13 of 17 countries as measured by the Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient is used to determine the level of income inequality in a country wherein a score of 0 is given to countries with complete equality (countries whose citizens have the same income) while a score of 1 is given to perfectly unequal countries (those in which one person owns all the income).

Recent data by the World Bank suggests that there has been a successful push to reduce poverty in the region, with the number of people living in extreme poverty (defined as those living on less than $2.50 a day) halved to 12.3 percent between 2003 and 2012. The largest proportion of the population, at 38 percent, includes those that are most vulnerable to falling back into poverty. This last part includes those making between $4-$10 a day. The middle class in Latin America is growing extremely rapidly at 34.3 percent of the population and is set to overtake the most vulnerable to become the largest segment of Latin America. The middle class is defined as the number of people who earn between $10-$50 a day.

Yet these numbers are a bit misleading. There continues to be a large degree of inequality between Latin Americans of different ethnicities. In Brazil, 76.4 percent of primary school children who are descended from Europeans are enrolled in school, while only 65.3 percent of indigenous or African children are enrolled. Similarly, in Chile 97 percent of families of European descent are enrolled in school, while 74.4 percent of children of indigenous or African descent are enrolled.

This is significant because as the middle class expands, it’s going to be able to expend more money on disposable goods and fuel economic growth. It will also be interesting to see what happens as the middle class demands more of a stake in the political process.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: World Bank, IARIW
Photo: Not Adam and Steve

In the past few weeks we have seen the rapid spread of what could become a devastating threat to the world’s banana population – a fungus known as Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4).

TR4 is a soil-born fungus that attacks plant roots and is now known to be deadly to the Cavendish banana, which is the world’s most popular and valuable banana crop, making up 95% of banana imports.

The fungal banana disease began its devastating journey in Southeast Asia, decimating tens of thousands of crops in Indonesia, China, Malaysia and the Philippines. TR4 has most recently been discovered in Jordan and Mozambique, indicating its spread beyond Asia to Africa and the Middle East.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that there is already a risk that the fungus has spread to the world’s most important banana-growing areas in Latin America. These countries include Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia, where hundreds of thousands of people rely on the banana trade to make a living each day.

Not only is the banana an essential component of more than 400 million people’s diets, it is also an essential component of their monetary livelihood. According to one estimate, TR4 could destroy up to 85% of the world’s banana crop by volume, decimating thousands of plantations across the globe and severely impacting the $8.9 billion banana trade.

One leading banana expert, Professor Rony Swennen claims, “If [TR4] is in Latin America, it is going to be a disaster, whatever the multinationals do. Teams of workers move across different countries. The risk is it is going to spread like a bush fire.”

The FAO has further warned that TR4 represents an “expanded threat to global banana production” and that virtually all export banana plantations will be vulnerable in the coming weeks unless TR4’s spread can be stopped or new resistant strains developed.

The Cavendish banana is not the first to fall prey to such a fungal epidemic. Prior to its cultivation, the Gros Michel banana had been wiped out by a similar strain of the Panama disease.

Current researchers are attempting to discover new banana varieties that are resistant to the fungus or develop disease-resistant GM strains. However, a concerted effort between the industry, research institutions, government and international organizations will be necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: Bloomberg, The Independent
Photo: Flickr

Two of the three biggest credit-rating agencies in the world have downgraded the credit rating of Puerto Rico. Standard and Poor’s has downgraded the Caribbean state to “BB” status, two steps below its previous rating of “BBB-”. The new status indicates the uncertainties of global markets in the credit quality of the recession-hit country should it be unable to repay its $70 billion worth of municipal debt.

Moody’s downgraded the credit quality of Puerto Rico to Ba2 from Baa3. The new rating means “obligations are judged to be speculative and are subject to substantial credit risk.”

Both agencies have cited the uncertain economic and investment environment as reasons for the downgrade. Puerto Rico has an unemployment rate of 14.7% and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 70% and growing, and concern abounds about its liquidity constraints. Moreover, much of the island is impoverished. According to the latest census data, 45.6% of the island was living in poverty in 2011.

Many investors in the US hold Puerto Rican debt because the debt is high-yield and triple-exempt, meaning it is tax-exempt at the local, state, and federal level. As such, they are widely held in mutual funds, with many people unaware. A large number of funds have already begun selling off Puerto Rican debt to cut their losses, such as the Franklin Double-Tax Free Income Fund, which has sold off almost $64 million worth of bonds.

The cut in Puerto Rico’s credit rating comes amidst actions taken on behalf of the government to rein in spending and reform a large pension system. As borrowing costs rise, it remains a question as to whether Puerto Rico will be able to obtain more credit after scheduling a $2 billion bond offering this month.

A spokesman for the US Treasury has stated that there is no “federal financial assistance being contemplated” for Puerto Rico.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Moodys, Standard and Poors, The Economist, CNBC, CNBC, Census.gov
Photo: Bloomberg