DALLAS — The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is renown for responding to emergency humanitarian crises around the world, whether it is providing water, counseling survivors of gender-based violence or helping resettle thousands of refugees starting a new life in the United States. Currently, the most recent humanitarian crisis that the IRC is addressing is the unprecedented influx of unaccompanied children crossing through the southwestern borders of the U.S.
On July 8, President Obama requested $3.7 billion in additional funding to deal with the crisis. The money would provide funding for new detention facilities as well as paying Border Patrol agents overtime and judges to process more cases.
In less than one year, since the beginning of the fiscal year in October 2013 through June 2014, U.S. border patrol agents have intercepted more than 52,000 minors attempting to cross the southwestern border in hopes to enter the U.S. While border patrol agents have frequently detected and prevented cases of illegal entry, this event is even more pressing that previous ones because all the migrants are unaccompanied children (UAC), found with no adults guiding them.
It is the first time that the IRC is addressing a problem pertaining to UACs. On July 10, in a testimony for a Congressional hearing in Washington pertaining to the UAC crisis, Sharon Waxman, the IRC’s vice president for Public Policy and Advocacy wrote, “We firmly believe that there is now sufficient and compelling evidence to suggest that violence is a predominant factor in what has become a forced displacement situation.”
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Latin America is the most violent region in world. The high violence is primarily attributed to drug-trafficking, youth gangs, availability of weapons and institutional weakness. The average number of homicide victims across Latin America is 25 murders per 100,000 people. However, in Honduras the numbers are 90.4 murders per 100,000 people and in El Salvador, 41.2 murders per 100,000 people. It is pertinent that the UACs come mainly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The IRC is committed to helping these UACs, who are first and foremost seeking safety in the U.S. because their own countries are dangerous and incapable of protecting them. While the IRC has made a considerable dent in helping refugees settle into the U.S., this case of UACs is distinct because there are currently no measures to protect them.
In 2008, during George W. Bush’s administration, both houses of Congress passed a law stating that children who have migrated illegally and were from neither Canada nor Mexico could wait for their deportation cases while staying with sponsors. However, because the issue of illegal child migration is so prevalent at this time, President Obama has proposed to change this law so that the UACs can be deported at a faster pace, without the option of sponsors.
One imperative that the IRC advocates is to “preserve the right to seek asylum for unaccompanied children and improve conditions for children while in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody.” These children have traveled from Latin America, hoping for safety and protection. If they are not given the chance to pursue this, they have nothing else to return to except vulnerability and fear. The Obama Administration may have the DHS keep the children in the detention facilities for an extended period of time, but centers must have fitting conditions to receive the influx of children.
Furthermore, another imperative that Waxman advocates is “[to]ensure the proposed foreign policy response is appropriate to the needs and the situation in the home countries of the children, and is based on programs proven to be effective.” The U.S. is a formidable power, capable of pressuring the Latin American countries to establish institutions and implement laws that function properly so that everyone, both adults and children alike, are able to live freely without fear of violence but with dignity.
– Christina Cho