During the past few months, the United States, Mexico and Central American governments have brought attention to the number of unaccompanied minors fleeing towards the U.S. from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that the number of unaccompanied children ages 12 and younger caught at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year rose 117 percent, compared to last fiscal year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that by May 31 this year, unaccompanied minors apprehended at the southwest U.S. border included 13,282 children from Honduras, 11,577 from Mexico, 11,479 from Guatemala, and 9,850 from El Salvador. The Wall Street Journal stated that the total number of unaccompanied children taken into custody at the end of June had climbed to 57,525.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a map that identifies the origins of the unaccompanied children and the factors causing child migration to the United States. In the case of Guatemala, the map indicated that many Guatemalan children come from rural areas and are probably seeking economic opportunities in the U.S., while many children from Honduras and El Salvador are coming from regions with high crime rates and are likely seeking refuge from violence.
Different opinion leaders have begun to analyze the situation from a variety of perspectives. Some, like Joaquín Villalobos, a former Salvadoran guerrilla leader, argue that the private sector is not taking action to reduce migration. Mary Anastasia O'Grady, a conservative writer from The Wall Street Journal, has focused on violence and impunity in these countries, mainly resulting from the war on drugs in the Northern Triangle of Central America.
Muzaffar Chishti and Faye Hipsman argued in a recent article for The Migration Policy Institute that “In reality, there is no single cause. Instead, a confluence of different pull and push factors has contributed to the upsurge. Recent U.S. policies toward unaccompanied children, faltering economies and rising crime and gang activity in Central American countries, the desire for family reunification, and changing operations of smuggling networks have all converged.”
While there is an urgent need to resolve the situation and reduce the number of unaccompanied children migrating to the U.S., the problem requires a combination of short- and long-term solutions. It is important to impose harsher penalties for “coyotes” or smugglers, since this has become a very lucrative business for organized crime, according to recent reports by Prensa Libre and Emisoras Unidas. It is also important to communicate to Indigenous leaders in sending communities why crossing illegally into the U.S. is a crime (both in Spanish and in different Mayan languages).
In the case of Guatemala, the private sector is already working with different the Guatemalan government, international organizations and cooperation agencies to accelerate economic growth and generate long-term solutions that will reduce immigration towards the U.S. through the Mejoremos Guate (Let’s Make Guatemala Better) initiative, led by the Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF) and the Guatemalan Development Foundation (Fundación para el Desarrollo de Guatemala—FUNDESA).
Guatemala’s private sector is implementing different projects in rural areas to increase economic opportunities: for example, by financing irrigation programs to increase agricultural productivity and by creating more English programs to increase the number of people that can work in call centers. Other projects include public policy advocacy for flexible labor laws—flexible hours and work contracts, more temporary employment or working from home, greater flexibility in pay arrangements, and reducing red tape to generate business and increase real income. In the pipeline, other initiatives involve supporting increased funding for low interest rate credits to increase investment in the departments of origin of unaccompanied minors, and promoting exports to southern Mexico by building manufacturing industries close to the border. In addition, it is important to increase the capacity of crime prevention projects in violent areas of Guatemala City, to support crowdsourcing initiatives like Alertos, which can support integrated solutions to reduce violence, and to build technical capacity for public law enforcement officials, both from the National Civil Police and Municipal Police.
U.S. policymakers, think tanks and NGOs that promote development in Guatemala and other countries in Central America must begin focusing on projects to increase productivity and reduce social exclusion in rural areas. These initiatives will have a direct impact on development and will help reduce the lack of opportunities that leads migrants to seek a better life in another country.
Massachusetts voters are split on whether they support Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to temporarily shelter 1,000 unaccompanied young immigrants in the state, according to a Boston Globe poll released today. Half of the 404 voters polled expressed support for Gov. Patrick’s plan, and 43 percent opposed it, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. Responses to the poll split along political lines, with 79 percent of Republicans opposing the plan and 69 percent of Democrats supporting it. As of the end of June, 733 minors had already been discharged to Massachusetts.
In an emotional address on Friday during which he called the situation at the southern border a “humanitarian crisis,” Gov. Patrick said the state could provide temporary shelter for up to four months at one of two military facilities in the towns of Bourne or Chicopee. He made clear that all services rendered at either facility relating to unaccompanied minors would be staffed and paid for by the federal government. But the mayor of Chicopee, Richard Kos, strongly opposed using the city’s Westover Air Reserve Base as an option, citing concerns about “security issues and maintaining normal operations.”
While generally regarded as a liberal state, the poll showed that Massachusetts residents are more moderate on immigration issues. Asked whether the migrant children should be allowed to stay in the U.S. after judicial hearings, and only 39 percent answered yes, while 43 percent said they should be deported. And only 52 percent of those polled support a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country illegally, which is in line with national poll results.
Three U.S. conservative political groups are organizing over 300 anti-immigration demonstrations across the country on Friday and Saturday to protest the federal government’s decision to relocate unaccompanied minors in Texas to other states.
The American Legal Immigration Political Action Committee (ALIPAC), Overpasses for America and Make Them Listen are coordinating efforts along with other Tea Party-associated groups to protests in front of state capitols, Mexican embassies and elsewhere.
“Our goal is to unify Americans of every race, political party, and walk of life against this Obama-inspired invasion of our American homeland,” said Paul Gheen, president of the North Carolina-based ALIPAC. The groups are frustrated over what they perceive as a deliberate lack of enforcement of current immigration laws, as 57,000 youth from Central America and Mexico have entered the U.S. illegally thus far this year.
The protests come one week after a bipartisan group of governors expressed concern about the relocations and how much they will cost their respective states. Many local governments officials have complained about a lack of communication coming from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol about whether buses of immigrant children would be coming and, if so, when.
Protests are also being planned far from the U.S.-Mexico border. The conservative group Oregonians for Immigration Reform is also organizing protests in five cities, including Portland.
The U.S. Congress has less than three weeks to reach a compromise on immigration that would address the surge of unaccompanied minors before Congress’ August recess.
President Obama requested $3.7 billion from the legislative branch to respond to the situation through increased deportation, a surge in border control agents and aid for the sending countries. However, an agreement on how much funding to provide—and where to allocate those funds—has yet to be made.
The humanitarian crisis has led to increased cooperation between Mexico and Central American sending countries in an attempt to crack down on the criminal organizations trafficking the children north. However, high rates of violent crime and impunity in Central America—particularly the Northern Triangle region of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—continue to contribute to unusually high rates of child migration.
The White House is expected to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus today to discuss expedited deportations and the president’s funding request. It is unclear how the U.S. immigration system will manage the influx of unaccompanied minors if Congress does not act before the August recess.
This week’s likely top stories: BRICS leaders meet in Brazil; Argentina and Russia sign energy agreements; U.S. considers action on child immigrants; Colombian forces strike FARC; Argentine soccer fans riot.
BRICS leaders to launch new bank at summit: Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa will convene in Fortaleza, Brazil for the sixth BRICS summit on Tuesday. The leaders will launch the “New Development Bank” (NDB) with $50 billion in initial capital to allow developing nations to secure infrastructure construction loans, pending legislative approval from all five BRICS countries. The BRICS countries also plan to set up the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA)—a $100 billion emergency lending pool for countries facing currency crises—whose purpose would be similar to that of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is not yet clear how the lending criteria of the CRA will differ from the IMF, if at all. China will contribute $41billion in initial funding to the CRA, South Africa will contribute $5 billion, and Brazil, Russia and India will each contribute $18 billion.
Argentina and Russia reach agreements on nuclear power: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed a number of energy deals on Saturday while the Russian leader visited Buenos Aires to cooperate on nuclear energy and other projects. Putin announced that Russia will help build a nuclear reactor and bases for a satellite system in Argentina and may help construct two hydroelectric plants. Fernández de Kirchner confirmed that Russia is also interested in investing in Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale formation and is planning to send a delegation to the area. On Friday, Putin was in Cuba meeting with Raúl and Fidel Castro to discuss energy, security, and health cooperation between Cuba and Russia.
U.S. Congress to consider $3.7 billion for child immigrants: After U.S. President Barack Obama requested $3.7 billion in funding last week to address the growing crisis of young undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided on how to proceed. Some Republicans have said that the $3.7 billion propose spends too little on border security. Many have advocated overturning a 2008 law signed by former President George W. Bush intended to protect unaccompanied children from human and sex trafficking, arguing that the children should be immediately returned to their home countries. Time is running out for congressional action, as Congress will begin a month-long break in August.
FARC guerrillas killed by Colombian army and police: Colombian national police and military killed 12 presumed guerrillas from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) on Sunday in the northwestern Colombian department of Antioquia. In a joint security operation, the police and military forces also seized weapons, computers, cellphones and USB memory sticks that could be useful for Colombian military intelligence. This comes after Saturdays’ capture of Manuel Cepeda Vargas—a member of FARC accused of more than 40 terrorist acts–in another joint operation between the police and army in the southwestern department of Cauca. Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC will resume in Havana on Tuesday.
World Cup riots in Argentina: An initially peaceful gathering of Argentine soccer fans near the Obelisk monument in Buenos Aires turned violent late on Sunday night as some hardcore fans rioted in response to the Argentine soccer team’s 0-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, making Germany the first European team to claim the World Cup trophy on American soil. As rioting and looting broke out along Avenida 9 de julio in Buenos Aires, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used water cannons on the crowd. At least 15 police officers were reported injured in the violence, and at least 50 people were detained. The Argentine national team is expected to return to Buenos Aires on Monday.
Yesterday in the city of Juan Dolio in the Dominican Republic, the Dominican and Haitian governments began the third round of bilateral talks concerning the legalization of the thousands of Haitians that live in the Dominican Republic without legal documentation. In a press conference after the talks concluded, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said that the Haitian government will provide documentation for the process of naturalization and regularization to its poorest citizens in the Dominican Republic for only 1,000 Dominican pesos ($23).
The pledge comes one month after the Haitian government announced the implementation of the Programme d'identification et de documentation des immigrants Haïtiens (Identification and Documentation Program for Haitian Immigrants—PIDIH) that would provide Haitian residents in the Dominican Republic with documents like an government identification, birth certificate and passport for 2,500 pesos ($57).
The Dominican Senate passed the Plan Nacional de Regularización de Extranjeros (The National Plan of the Regularization of Foreigners) last month as a response to a ruling issues last September by the Tribunal Constitucional (Constitutional Tribunal) that retroactively stripped citizenship from Dominicans born after 1929 to undocumented immigrants. Since the Dominican government began the process of regularization on June 2, more than 80,000 have signed up to start the process. However, only 20,000 of this group have some type of identification, and only 300 fit all the requirements.
Beyond the discussion of immigration, the Dominican Minister of the Presidency Gustavo Montalvo asked that the Haitian government end the current ban on importing Dominican products, which he said has resulted in “increasing the informal market” and has “created competitive disadvantages.” Nevertheless, Montalvo said that with the bilateral talks this year the countries have made more progress than in the previous 50 years.
On Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an executive order issued by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in August 2012, which denied driver’s licenses to young immigrants who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The ruling reverses a May 2013 decision in which District Judge David Campbell sided with Brewer’s administration, denying that her policy was unconstitutional because federal law would take precedence over it.
Immigrants can qualify for DACA and receive temporary work permits and remain in the U.S. without risk of deportation for two years, provided that they are under 30, they arrived in the country before the age of 16, have a high school diploma, GED or served in the military, and have not been convicted of a significant misdemeanor or felony. Brewer’s attorneys claimed the driver’s license ban was put in place to prevent improper access to public benefits and for the State of Arizona to avoid assuming “the liability of giving licenses to people who aren’t authorized to be in the country.”
Monday’s ruling is a victory for immigrants’ rights advocates, particularly in Arizona where 87 percent of workers commute to work by car. Only Arizona and Nebraska have issued license denials, however a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the policy in Nebraska this year.
Immigration reform has been thrust into the spotlight this summer as tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America, have entered the U.S. illegally this year. The White House announced yesterday that the majority of these young immigrants will be deported because they will not qualify for assistance for “humanitarian reasons.”
Check a debate between Jan Brewer and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on whether states and local governments have the right to enforce their own immigration laws.
In an announcement at the White House yesterday, President Barack Obama blamed House Republicans for congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration reform, and said that he would be moving forward with executive action to fix the U.S.’s broken immigration system. Obama went on to say that he would be moving resources from the interior of the country to the border, in part to address the estimated 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have entered the U.S. illegally so far in 2014.
Obama said that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder will "identify additional actions my administration can take within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.” Obama expects recommendations by summer’s end, which could affect the midterm elections in November.
Under executive action, Obama could reduce deportations by extending deferred action to certain group of undocumented immigrants, similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program he started through executive action in 2012.
The announcement comes less than a week after Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner told the president that the House of Representatives would not vote on the comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate a year ago, despite the fact that there is enough bipartisan support in the chamber to pass it.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Guatemala and U.S. President Barack Obama’s meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto this month highlighted the thousands of unaccompanied, undocumented Central American youth crossing the U.S. southwest border into the United States.
Although the numbers don’t approach the millions of Mexicans and other Latin Americans crossing the U.S. border in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the fact that many of these migrants are minors creates significant complications.
Traditional approaches to immigration control are not likely to be effective as long as the factors that cause youth migration remain unaddressed. A big one is the worrisome state of urban neighborhoods and rural municipalities in Central America, as well as in parts of Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports that during the 6-month period from October 2013 to May 2014, some 47,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America and Mexico crossed into the United States in southern Texas as undocumented migrants—a 90 percent increase over the same time period the previous year.
The problem is complicated by the question of whether some young migrants could be placed with family members already residing in the United States, and humanitarian concerns that some do not have homes to return to in their native countries. The problem is bad enough that DHS has set up temporary holding facilities at military bases in Texas, Oklahoma and California.
Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, announced on Monday that the U.S. will move forward with the deportation of the estimated 60,000 to 80,000 undocumented unaccompanied minors who will enter the country illegally in 2014 alone.The announcement comes just days after the White House unveiled a multi-million dollar plan to help reintegrate Central American return migrants in their home countries and increase security assistance funding.
In addition to speeding up the deportation process, the White House emphasized that these children are not guaranteed asylum. Unlike Canadian and Mexican minors, Central American children—who make up the majority of the recent surge—cannot be repatriated immediately, and are instead put in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement until they can be placed with a parent or guardian while awaiting their deportation proceedings.
In addition to foreign aid, the Obama administration’s plan announced on Friday would increase immigration enforcement on the border, open facilities designed to detain families and increase the amount of immigration judges available to handle immigration court hearings to help ease the backlog that is partly responsible for keeping unaccompanied children in cramped quarters.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.