WASHINGTON — The House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, a subcommittee within the House Foreign Affairs Committee, held a hearing in June on the topic of unaccompanied child migrants traveling from Central America to the United States.
In the first part of the 2014 fiscal year, over 47,000 unaccompanied child migrants were apprehended crossing the southern border into Texas. Compared to 2009 statistics, there is a 700 percent increase coming from El Salvador, 930 percent increase from Guatemala and 1200 percent increase from Honduras.
It is a dangerous journey, and the children often travel with trafficking criminals.
Chairman Salmon (R-Arizona) stated that Obama’s unwillingness to enforce immigration has encouraged these children to make the journey in hopes of gaining access to the United States. He insisted that the United States has a responsibility, and Obama should tell the world that the United States will protect its borders and discourage parents from sending their children to the U.S.
He asserted that the United States should take immediate steps to send the children back and also look at the conditions in the Central American countries.
“Secretary Kerry said that climate change was the most significant crisis facing our country and the globe. With all due respect, this situation of unaccompanied minors fleeing their homeland is an immediate crisis and demands an immediate response that focuses on development and jobs over pet environmental projects,” Salmon said.
Representative Engel (D-New York) said that cracking down on the children is not the answer. The government needs to get to the root of the problem, which would include young gang prevention and stimulating economic growth in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Representative Castro (D-Texas) told a story of how he visited an emergency house for refugees in San Antonio, Texas and saw a 6-year-old boy reunited with his younger sister.
The scene reaffirmed his opinion that Congress has failed to act. He believes that there is a need to “pass comprehensive reform” on this issue.
“Not only are these children exposed to life-threatening risks on the journey to the United States, but there is the potential for them to be misled about potential immigration benefits available in the United States,” said Francisco Palmieri, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central America and the Caribbean at U.S. Department of State. “Our first concern must be about these children’s safety.”
The State Department is engaging with foreign governments to stop the spread of misinformation through criminal networks that are encouraging the journey to the United States. They are also striving to address what has created the “push factors behind this phenomenon: lack of economic, educational, and employment opportunities, weak institutions and high levels of violence and insecurity.”
Palmieri said that the State Department is working with Mexico to increase enforcement along the dangerous La Bestia train route on which many of the unaccompanied child migrants travel through Mexico.
Representative Duncan (R-South Carolina) has questioned how these unaccompanied child migrants were able to get through Mexico’s southern border.
Mark Lopes, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and Caribbean, said that the issue will continue to be a major focus of USAID.
USAID currently has 120 outreach centers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. They are initiating a five-year $40-million program this summer in Guatemala to help eliminate the factors for migrating to the United States and a five-year $25 million program in El Salvador that will offer services to youth who are vulnerable to gang recruitment.
“Our prevention efforts are designed both to have an immediate and measurable impact, but more importantly to prove concepts and demonstrate that such investments can pay dividends beyond their cost,” Lopes said.
Representative Duffy (R-Wisconsin) said that sending the children home and closing the border would be the best option. If the United States were to keep the children, the message to the parents would be that they can get into the country; that is the wrong message to send.
“President Obama and his political spin team in the White House are calling this a humanitarian situation,” Salmon said. “I visited a location where these children are being held in Nogales, Arizona. I saw children as young as 4 essentially warehoused, and I can tell you it are not a situation, it’s a crisis.”
– Colleen Moore