WASHINGTON, D.C. — A recent article by the Huffington Post reported that 52,000 child immigrants have arrived in the United States since last October. That is over 10 times the number of child immigrants reported for 2009 and triple the figure from last year. Out of the 52,000 young immigrants, there has been an 117 percent increase in the arrival of children 12 or younger and a 140 percent increase in the number of girls crossing the border.
Currently, the U.S. government and public opinion go back and forth over what is to be done with these children. As a result of this oscillation, amid both threats of deportations and actual deportations, nearly 300 women and children have been sent back to their countries of origin since the start of this recent surge of arrivals. Schools across the nation have encountered an influx of Central American children in their classrooms for the new school year.
However, as divergent opinions on this issue are being vocalized by various members of the public and Congress, the U.S. has begun to take concrete steps towards inhibiting the worsening of this issue. Recognizing that the U.S.’s immigration crisis is a result of very real humanitarian crises occurring in the Central American states from which these children hail, the U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Aid has begun to increase aid to these nations.
Most of the children in question hail from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, three Central American countries alike both for their high rates of poverty and gang violence.
A report commissioned by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol found that both the presence of poverty and the extreme violence in their countries of origin is what encouraged this migration for the majority of the migrants.
In 2012, the United Nations Refugee Agency found in a survey that 58 percent of these Central American immigrants had left their home countries either due to the threat or presence of violence.
In 2013, the U.N. Office for Drugs and Crime labeled Honduras as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with a homicide rate of 90 per 100,000 residents. El Salvador and Guatemala have rates of 41 and 39, respectively. The U.S. homicide rate is under five for every 100,000 inhabitants.
School dropout rates are also dangerously high in the three countries; in Honduras, less than one-third of students complete ninth grade. The World Bank further reports that almost one-fourth of youths from 15 to 19 years old in all three nations mentioned are neither in school nor employed.
Much of the gang-based violence has also taken an economic tool. Insight Crime news portal reported that roughly 17,500 small businesses have closed in Honduras in 2012 alone due to extortion. These closures affected over 25,000 families.
To address this, USAID is sponsoring a number of programs in both areas, focusing on issues such as crime prevention, youth employment and education.
The METAS Project in Honduras is but one example of these programs. With the official title being Improving Education for Work, Learning and Success, this is a project financed by USAID and run by the Education Development Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting education, health and economic opportunities worldwide. Under the EDC’s guidance and USAID’s monetary support and investment, this program aims to provide the youth of Honduras with the opportunity to acquire skills necessary for future employment.
The program addresses both education and employment needs for youths lacking access to basic education skills and work skill learning opportunities.
So far, the METAS Project has reached over 40,000 youth participants from around 250 schools, universities and communities. In addition to that number, it also has helped train 706 teachers to help facilitate this process.
Of the 40,000 youth participants reached, 24,000 youths were trained in the Work Readiness Skill Training and Certification Program and nearly 8,000 out-of-school youths have been incorporated into long term employability projects.
With the continual financing of this program and others, USAID may bring about a long-term solution to this current immigration and humanitarian crisis.
– Albert Cavallaro
Sources: Huffington Post, International Development, Los Angeles Times 1, Los Angeles Times 2, NPR, New York Times, UNHCR Washington
Photo: NBC News