In 2013, tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children crossed the U.S. border. Most come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and are fleeing their home countries because of poverty and violence. The rising numbers of child immigrants are bringing the issue to the forefront of Washington’s political debate.
“I am personally appalled by the staggering numbers of minors — sometimes 5 and 6-year-olds — who are left with no other choice but to cross the desert by themselves,” says Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Ted Menendez (D-NJ).
There is a growing movement of minors crossing the Mexico-U.S. border in Texas, and allowing themselves to be arrested. In 2013, the Office of Refugee Resettlement took in 24,668 unaccompanied minor immigrants, up from the average of 7,000 a year in the early 2000s. This sharp increase in numbers is explained by critical lawmakers as children taking advantage of U.S. policy on child immigrants from Central American countries. The policy allows such children to live with an adult in the U.S. from the time of their arrest until their court date.
Many more than the 24,668 taken in by the Office of Refugee Resettlement cross the border without notice by authorities. Still thousands more never make it to the border. As of June 2014, Mexico has deported 4,500 U.S. bound child immigrants from Honduras alone.
Poverty and violence are the two main factors driving people out of Honduras. Mario Aquino Vasquez is a security guard in Las Brisas, a neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, one of Honduras’ most violent cities. He describes the constant gang raids in the neighborhood: “If you were held at gunpoint and you didn’t give up everything you owned, they would kill you.” The dirt roads and shack-like houses of Las Brisas represent the 60 percent of Hondurans living below the poverty line.
James Nealon, nominee for the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, addresses the issue of unaccompanied minors fleeing a poverty stricken country. The issue stems from a complex system of narcotics trafficking and organized crime. In order to address the corruption, Nealon explains, the U.S. must assist Honduras in establishing democratic intuitions, in fostering respect for the rule of law and in the successful prosecution of criminals.
He confirms that it is in the U.S. interest to promote stability in Honduras. A stable Honduras means a stronger trading partner for the U.S. and fewer drugs making their way to the U.S. All of this will indirectly result in less unaccompanied minors making the dangerous journey across the U.S. border. Learn more about poverty in Honduras.
— Julianne O’Connor