Statement from Oscar Chacón, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC)
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Violence and lack of public security are the two predominant driving forces behind the exodus of children from countries in Central America. Children are increasingly the targets and the victims of this violence. The Obama Administration has called this a “humanitarian crisis.” It is. And it must be treated as such, which means the wellbeing of the children and the obligation to reunite families must be our paramount concern.
- First, we need to stop deporting children back into conditions of violence and insecurity. To do so violates every moral obligation we have as a society toward our children, and it contravenes national and international laws protecting children, keeping families intact, protecting victims of torture and forced recruitment into violent conflict. The US Government should provide immediate humanitarian protections through existing means such as Asylum, UN Convention Against Torture, or through additional programs such as Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Action as needed.
- Detaining children is a serious problem. The practice of holding children for long periods is cruel and unnecessary. Rather, they should be swiftly reunited with family (subject to appropriate verification procedures) without reference to the immigration status of the family member.
- A longer term response will require rethinking the economic and development policies in Central America, as well as the current approach to “security”, which prioritizes militarization and control over human well-being and respect for human rights. Any response that ignores this longer term challenge will simply set the stage for the next crisis.
- Mexican children are a hidden aspect of this crisis. The only reason why we are not hearing more about Mexican children, who are also aprehended at the border in large numbers, is that Mexican children who are picked up by the Border Patrol as they attempt to enter the United States, are immediately deported, with absolutely no recourse to legal representation. This practice, euphemistically called “repatriation” obscures the fact that many Mexican chidlren are also fleeing conditions of insecurity and violence, and also deserve protection.
It is important to understand that parents are taking a calculated risk in a no-win situation
- No parent should be faced with the heart-wrenching dilemma that parents of children in Central America are facing. They have to make a calculation of whether they are better off trying to reunite with their child, despite the risk of the migration journey, or leave their child to face the grave and constant risk of violence at home.
The Root of the Crisis is Economic
- The increasing violence and insecurity that these Central American children are fleeing has its roots in a structural pattern of increasing economic inequality, especially in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The exodus of youth from the region points to the failure of economic and development policies to produce genuine opportunities for people to live dignified lives in their home countries.
Policy Failures both in the United States, as well as in Central America and Mexico have contributed to this crisis, and must be addressed. Some of these policy failures will require long-term solutions, but some steps must be taken right away.
- The current crisis of children in detention also highlights profound policy failures in the United States, both in terms of our outdated and cruel immigration policies that keep families separated, as well as our inability (or unwillingness) to react to a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.
- For their part, the governments of Central America and Mexico are ill-equipped to respond to a flow of children who have been deported, or those in transit through their countries. The frame of national security, control and punishment that permeates our national debate on immigration is completely inappropriate in this situation. This humanitarian crisis requires—first and foremost—a commitment to protect children and families from harm.
- The countries from which the unaccompanied children are fleeing also bear enormous responsibility and should be held accountable—both for failing to provide a stable and secure environment in which families can thrive, and for failing to provide opportunities that would make emigration a true option, rather than a necessity for people who are seeking a better life for their families. Countries, such as Mexico, through which children are traveling in transit toward the United State also have an obligation to protect them.
The absence of Nicaraguans in this drama
- The structural conditions in Nicaragua with respect to public security and social welfare are markedly different in Nicaragua than in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. As a result, Nicaragua has fewer of the immediate triggers that are fueling the large scale éxodus of children from other countries in the region.
- The nature of emigration in Nicaragua is different from other countries in the region. For the past twenty years or so, the majority of people seeking opportunities outside Nicaragua have settled in Costa Rica, or other Central American countries, rather than in the United States. The migration dyanamic between Nicaragua and Costa Rica has its own problems and tensions, including concerns about treatment of migrant children.
Deportation is not the answer to this Crisis
- Suggesting that we can stem the tide of unaccompanied children by swiftly deporting those who are already here makes no sense. The structural problems that drive the exodus of children in the first place must be addressed. In the absence of guarantees of protection for the children currently in the United States, it is unconscionable that they be returned. The cycles of violence and desperation will just be fueled by such a practice.
- The response by the US Government so far has been completely contradictory. President Obama has referred to the situation of the unaccompanied children as a “humanitarian crisis.” But the request to Congress for additional funds to speed deportation proceedings suggests exactly the opposite. We are deeply saddened to think that this crisis is getting a “business as usual” response, and the administration is defaulting to the same misguided framework of repression and punishment that has characterized immigration policy since the 1990s. This is especially shameful in light of this Administration’s track record of deporting more than 2 million people in the last few years.
We should invest wisely in short-term and long-term remedies, not militarized approaches
- In a recent visit to Honduras, Vice President Biden indicated that the United States would provide support for increased police and military efforts to combat organized crime. Continuing to feed violence with more violence is not the answer. The United States should support Central American countries to help with creating the conditions for protection and healthy return of children and families. This is an urgent short-term priority, as countries such as Honduras are already struggling to respond to the re-integration challenges of the many people who have been deported in recent years.