One of the saddest aspects of the immigration issue is the influx of minors from Central American countries to Mexico in their quest to reach the U.S. This migration was elevated to crisis-level during the summer of 2014, when thousands of Central American children and women came to the U.S. border and surrendered to immigration authorities in order to seek asylum.
The Obama administration panicked and quickly proceed to act to prevent the arrival of asylum seekers at its doors from Central America’s northern triangle: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Since then, the U.S. has been using diplomatic channels to stop such minors from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border. Through the Southern Border Program, Mexican authorities play an active role in detaining many of these young immigrants at that country’s southern border.
A new report by the Migration Policy Institute details the human drama of unaccompanied minors who are desperately undertaking a dangerous journey to escape violence, criminal gang recruitment, and endemic poverty. Many are seeking to be reunited with family members already in the U.S. but end up detained in Mexico.
Only 1 percent of the 17,500 unaccompanied minors apprehended by Mexican authorities received asylum in 2016.
The research paper, authored by Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, states that since 2014, Mexico has detained more than 50,000 such children. A growing number of them are girls and children under age 12, who are saturating the already taxed social services in Mexico.
The study highlights the areas where protection for these children needs to be improved, including adherence to an international legal framework that emphasizes the pursuit of the “best interest of the child.” That’s a difficult task for a country grappling with its own violence and poverty.
Most unaccompanied minors stopped in Mexico are kept in adult migrant detention centers, in spite of a legal framework that should warrant their access to adequate child shelters.
The research denounces the fact that children are not properly screened and cannot be identified as persons in need of international protection. The Mexican Human Rights Commission and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said that only a small fraction of the children are interviewed by Mexican authorities, so many are not designated for protection. Many are deported or sent to inadequate immigration centers or DIF centers that do not offer accommodations for underage asylum seekers and provide limited psychological and educational services.
The statistics are alarming. Only 1 percent of the 17,500 unaccompanied minors apprehended by Mexican authorities received asylum in 2016.
There is definitely a gap between policy and implementation.
The study offers a series of recommendations, including:
1. Improve and extend the screening process by assigning child protecting officers and training immigration agents in international protocols.
2. Allocate funding to DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, a goverment agency that cares for children and families) facilities so they can house unaccompanied minors. Improve the educational and sociological services offered.
3. Increase access to legal counsel for minors so they can access asylum or refugee status.
Additionally, governments from the U.S., Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala must seek regional solutions to reduce the extreme violence and poverty that fuels this migration in the first place.