Pandemic Refugees in the United States
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected refugees, causing a migration crisis and hindering equality among poor people. Millions of people have experienced displacement from their homes since the outbreak began. This massive displacement created a concentration of immigrants in urban areas seeking asylum. The term for these individuals is “pandemic refugees.” Pandemic refugees in the United States are individuals the virus severely affected who desire a place to seek asylum and better-quality health services. However, the virus spread rapidly across borders, making it harder for refugees to find places that are genuinely safe.

Actions from the IOM

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is the United Nations’ migration agency, has worked hard to provide shelter to those the COVID-19 pandemic displaced. The organization also partnered with the World Food Program (WFP) to fight for people currently facing food and sanitary crises. Poverty deprives people of access to health facilities, allowing them to potentially avoid the virus. Additionally, the lack of new jobs and the government imposing quarantines have led people to seek help from organizations or even become pandemic refugees forced to cross borders looking for a better living standard.

Reaching the United States

Devastated economies have caused millions of individuals to flee to the United States, potentially traveling long distances in their journeys. Dozens of people pile up on the border between Mexico and the United States. These refugees pack minimum necessities and hit the road, attempting to cross the border and start a new life as unauthorized U.S. citizens. The Biden administration has encountered a significant number of refugees seeking prosperity and asylum in the aftermath of the pandemic. The U.S. Border Patrol has stated that refugees try to cross the borders daily. These numbers are quickly growing to overwhelming amounts.

Opportunity and Despair

While pandemic refugees in the United States seek a better life, they also encounter difficulties when searching for jobs. Compared to documented citizens, opportunities for undocumented citizens are different. Governments frequently attempt to send them back to their home country. Because of this, vulnerable groups like refugees are paying the highest price during the COVID-19 pandemic. Complications from the pandemic have created despair for individuals who flee their land and families. The closure of borders and restrictions on movement limit individuals’ access to food, housing and overall security. There are few cases of success and opportunities for refugees who fled their home countries seeking better opportunities. Security is also a significant problem for refugees since they are vulnerable groups and can spread the virus.

US COVID-19 Response

The United States has responded to the pandemic with a relief package of $11 billion for a global response. The U.S. government has worked hard to stop extreme poverty levels during the pandemic, and increase vaccination numbers and sustainable development. The country has also implemented unemployment benefits to give extra money to qualified unemployed individuals. Nevertheless, the U.S. must extend more of these protections to pandemic refugees. If it does, pandemic refugees in the United States will obtain the assistance and security they deserve to protect themselves and their families.

– Ainara Ruano Cervantes
Photo: Flickr

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

Photo: PBS