It is not violence in Central America alone nor is it border insecurity that caused the crisis. It is a combination of both: the conditions in Central America and poor U.S. policy that provided the conditions for the surge to the border by unaccompanied minors.
Central Americans are being pushed from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala largely because governments there are corrupt, opportunity is rare, and violence is high. When these conditions deteriorate to a point where people feel desperate, they take desperate action, such as the journey to the border.
The argument that violence in Central America is the proximate cause of the current crisis on the border is false though it is likely a contributing factor, particularly in Honduras.
These countries have not suddenly entered into an utter chaos that demands an exodus by the local population. El Salvador and Guatemala have murder rates similar to and even lower than some U.S. cities. They are motivated to leave by existing conditions, but they must also be drawn to another destination.
The pulling force is a well-intentioned U.S. law and policy to decrease human trafficking that created opportunities for abuse. These laws confer refugee status upon unaccompanied minors from countries other than Canada and Mexico at U.S. border crossings until a hearing can be conducted to assess the validity of the refugee claim.
The delays in the hearing dates create the opportunity for the refugees to settle firmly in the U.S. The vast majority never appear at their hearings and remain in the hope of a future amnesty under comprehensive immigration reform.
The spark that ignited the movement to the border that began in 2012 was likely an unintended consequence of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action. Further evidence will need to be developed to prove this thesis, but there is a clear correlation in the timeline of events.
The effect in Central America was a perception that children who are brought illegally to the U.S. are treated differently. In addition, the extensive discussion of comprehensive immigration reform in 2012 and 2013 that will offer amnesty to 12 million illegal aliens already in the U.S. may have convinced Central Americans that it was time to begin the journey or miss out on the opportunity.
Compassion and mercy ask that we extend ourselves and aid the unaccompanied minors that are on the border. Make no doubt that those who spit on those they disagree with or frighten children through their own anger are wrong. We have an obligation to be kind and caring to these children while they are in U.S. custody.
The common sense adage “that which you subsidize you will get more of” demands that the unaccompanied minors be sent home. Should 100,000 of them be allowed to remain in the United States there will be 500,000 in two years and 1 million in five years on the southwestern border from around the world.
The Congress should pass and the president should sign before the August recess of Congress an amendment to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 to allow expeditious removal of unaccompanied minors from any country.
In addition to the Recommendations for Presidential Action posted earlier to this blog, the United States should take the following immediate actions:
- The Congress should pass and the President should sign before the August recess of Congress an amendment to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 that allows all unaccompanied minors, regardless of their country of origin to be treated in the same manner as citizens of Mexico and Canada with expeditious removal. The law should apply retroactively to all entries beginning in 2012.
- Disaggregate those children accompanied by an adult and those who are not. Process those with an accompanying adult for immediate repatriation to their country of origin.
- Following amendment of the Wilberforce Act, immediately repatriate all unaccompanied minors through an expeditious removal process in the most effective, safe, and comfortable manner possible to their country of origin.
- Augment the Border Patrol Service with National Guard for a short period until the unaccompanied minor issue is fully resolved.
At a minimum the United States should take the following actions:
- The Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the Merida Initiative, U.S. Southern Command programs, and other foreign assistance to Central America should be reviewed for their effectiveness in implementation and opportunities for effective change, supplementation, and augmentation.
- The U.S. suspension of cooperation with Honduras should be lifted and President Obama should invite President Hernandez and the other regional leaders to a substantive meeting at the White House to identify ways in which the conditions that cause migration can be negated.