It’s no secret that the U.S.-Mexico border sees thousands of illegal immigrants attempt and succeed to cross the border over the Rio Grande into the U.S. However, it is not always who border patrol expects to find. Children, solo or in small groups, and as young as 5 years old, have become more common in the past few years.
These children hail from all over Central America and Mexico, attempting to be reunited with their families. Often, parents make it across the border then send money home to their country until they can afford an escort, or coyote, to bring their kids to the U.S. In some cases, families rely on other family members due to lack of funds. What’s more concerning is the differential treatment the children receive based on where they run from and how they are treated in detainment facilities if caught.
In the cases of Central American countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — children receive more accommodating treatment from U.S. guards. Mexican children are deported almost immediately, while Latin American children are held and then reunited with their families in the U.S., joining the 11 million other undocumented immigrants.
The reason for this preferential treatment stems from the causation of the children fleeing. Often they are escaping drug trades, gangs and extreme violence, and see the U.S. as their only hope for solace. Some 47,000 children entered the U.S. from Central American countries last year in hopes to avoid their dim futures in the home countries.
However, the U.S. does not directly support the influx of illegal immigrants. Currently the U.S. is offering $40 million to Guatemala, $25 million to El Salvador and $18.5 million to Honduras to fight domestic violence in their homes.
Should these children find themselves in U.S. processing and detention centers, Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson expresses deep concern. Johnson spoke to CNN, saying, “A processing center — and a number of us here have seen them ourselves — are no place for children, and to put a child into the hands of a criminal smuggling organization is not safe either,” referring to the South Texas location where many child immigrants find themselves.
Furthermore, once a child has been detained it could be years before they achieve a level of citizenship due to the severe backlog. The Washington Post reports that the backlog at the federal immigration court system of pending cases is nearing 360,000. This absurdly high number leaves families on their own to struggle. As of last October, U.S. Border Patrol has detained 52,000 children attempting to cross the border and while the U.S. is trying to help these children feel safe in their own homes, it’s clear that more work is necessary to see an improvement in quality of life in Central American and Mexican homes.
– Elena Lopez