“Shelters for migrant children to open” read the headline. The reality is colder: the number of refugee children from Central America is rising again, and the “shelters” are new federal detention camps, built to “shelter” up to 9,800 children at a time.
While border crossings have not reached 2013 levels, says the Christian Science Monitor, “the numbers began to pick up again this June, and have remained high since then.” More than 10,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border to the United States in October and November, more than double the number in 2014. The number of family members crossing has “nearly tripled, to 12,505” in the same period.
Violence in Central America drives the numbers up. The New York Times Magazine’s report on Honduran deportees includes story after story of reasons for flight. One example:
“Members of the 18th Street Gang had begun pressuring him to join their ranks, and on one occasion they had jumped him for refusing.
“Villanueva later described the torture and murder of the uncle who directed the youth group at his family’s church. In 2013, the uncle disappeared after complaining to the police about the 18th Street Gang harassing the group members. A few days later, his body turned up in the Chamelecón River covered with puncture wounds, which investigators deemed to have been inflicted by an ice pick.”
U.S. policy takes a two-pronged approach to keeping Central American refugees out: funding Mexican efforts to turn them back before they reach the border, and imprisoning and deporting those who get to the United States. Adults caught crossing the border without papers are usually imprisoned until their case is heard. Families with children — usually mothers with small children — are also imprisoned, though U.S. federal district court judge ruled last July, that this violates U.S. law. Unaccompanied minors must be turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours — hence the detention “shelters.”
Children typically appear before a judge without a lawyer and are ordered deported. Politico reports that President Obama ordered stepped-up deportations in the summer of 2014:
“In the first 13 months, nearly 2,800 removal orders were issued by immigration judges for children who were afforded no defense lawyer and only a single hearing. In at least 40 percent of these cases, the defendant was 16 or younger.”
Not only are many children unrepresented: they are also met with hostility by immigration judges. The ImmigrationProf Blog recently reported that the Board of Immigration Appeals recently ordered that immigration judges “should not bully noncitizen respondents (especially children seeking asylum).”
As heated discussion of Syrian refugees continues, the unwelcoming attitude of the United States toward all refugees sadly continues as well.