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Forum Post: Child Migrants Are Refugees the US Helped Create

Posted 3 years ago on July 20, 2014, 7:19 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Child Migrants Are Refugees the US Helped Create

Sunday, 20 July 2014 11:37
By Nathalie Baptiste, Foreign Policy in Focus | Op-Ed


Central American children fleeing poverty and gang violence are refugees - often from situations US policies have helped to create - and they should be treated as such.

The arduous journey from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to the border city of McAllen, Texas stretches some 1,500 long miles. To walk it at an average pace—without resting—it would take around three weeks. If you manage to make it without succumbing to the elements—the scorching days and the freezing nights—among the dust and cacti are strangers waiting to kidnap, extort, rape, or even murder you.

Now imagine you are a child.

It’s a dangerous trip, to put it mildly, but desperate Central American parents are paying thousands of dollars to smugglers to get their children across Mexico and on to a better life in the United States.

In fiscal year 2013, 38,833 children crossed the border into the United States. For fiscal year 2014, the Obama administration expects that number to swell to 90,000, the vast majority of them through Mexico. It’s a humanitarian crisis, and it’s happening on our borders.

Hoping that the U.S. government will deal more leniently with minors than adults, these children take the notoriously dangerous and often deadly trip alone, with no parent or guardian to protect them. How desperate does a parent have to be to risk the lives of their children?

“The gang was going to kill me,” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson recalls a child migrant telling him, “and so my grandmother or my father told me they had no choice but to send me to the United States to be with the other parent.”

Pretty desperate, is the answer.

The immigrants have not been met with open arms. As three buses filled with detained young children and their mothers rolled into Murrieta, California, they were met with protesters who jeered, “Go home!” and “Illegals Out!” Referencing a bunk claim that the children were carrying infectious diseases, some signs even urged American parents to “Save Your Kids From Disease!” At one point, protesters began a rousing chant of “USA! USA! USA!”

If these xenophobic protesters had paused to consider the situations in these children’s countries of origin—or the U.S. role in exacerbating them—perhaps they wouldn’t be blocking buses and screaming thinly veiled racist epithets.

These children are refugees—often from situations U.S. policies have helped to create—and they should be treated as such.

Warzones of Origin

Although the children crossing the border hail from countries all over the world, 74 percent of them come from three small countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. A quick glance at the situation in these countries sheds some light on why parents would have their children risk the treacherous and sometimes fatal voyage to come to the United States.

Four years after a coup deposed its democratically elected populist government, Honduras now has the highest homicide rate in the world, and political repression runs rampant throughout the Latin American nation. Human rights activists, coup opponents, and journalists have been murdered with impunity. While President Obama called the coup illegal at the time, the U.S. government has since normalized relations. Today the United States continues to provide assistance to the Honduran military, despite its direct role in human rights abuses.

Gang violence in Honduras is a major reason for the large number of children heading north. In San Pedro Sula, which reportedly has the highest murder rate in the world, gangs are essentially running the city. The only way to survive is to see, hear, and say very little—and to pay the taxes that gangs levy on families. If there’s a murder, it’s safer to stay away from the funeral. Even NGOs and church groups admit that they too submit to gang rules.

Hondurans are also dealing rising inequality, unemployment, and poverty. Extreme poverty had dropped by over a fifth during the populist Zelaya administration. But within just two years of the coup, extreme poverty had jumped by over a quarter. Meanwhile unemployment more than doubled between 2008 and 2012.

In neighboring Guatemala, a devastating civil war that ravaged the country for 36 years has left a legacy of poverty and violence. The origins of the war date back to 1954, when a CIA-backed coup toppled the democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz, who had planned to nationalize the U.S.-based United Fruit Company and legalize the Communist Party. The coup gave way to an armed insurgency in 1960, which provoked a vicious government crackdown backed by the United States. By 1996, over 200,000 Guatemalans had been killed or forcibly disappeared. The war was marked by grotesque violence and the genocidal slaughter of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans by government forces.

The former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide last year, but the legacy of the civil war, which ended less than 20 years ago, is still being felt today. Current Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has himself been implicated in wartime atrocities, and his government has presided over the largest escalation of attacks on human rights defenders in Guatemala since the civil war. In 2013 alone, attacks on journalists, indigenous leaders, unionists, and judicial workers increased by a whopping 126 percent.

Human rights abuses are not the only type of violence plaguing Guatemala—in 2012 the country of 15 million averaged nearly 100 murders per week.

El Salvador has a similar history. For 12 years a civil war ravaged the small nation, killing some 70,000 people. As in Guatemala, the repressive regime in El Salvador—which was notorious for dispatching paramilitary death squads against civilians—was backed by the United States. At the end of the war, El Salvador saw a huge explosion of gang violence, with the gangs being populated mostly by people who came of age during the civil war.

One family’s nightmare encapsulates the country’s ballooning violence and deteriorating rule of law in the country. In September 2011, Hector Antonio Giron’s 16-year-old daughter was kidnapped by members from Barrio 18—one of the largest gangs in the region. After searching the streets and asking people for clues as to where his daughter had been taken, a man confessed to taking money to drive the girl and a gang member to a ranch near the beach. When the police failed to arrive at the scene, Giron took matters into his own hands. Arriving to discover his daughter being raped, he opened fire with a 9mm pistol, killing a leader of the gang and dispersing the others. The next morning, the gang retaliated by sending young members to murder Giron’s wife.

The Giron family story is not an outlier. Amid a faltering truce between the country’s two largest gangs, the country’s murder rate increased by nearly 50 percent in the first months of this year. Police collusion with gangs with remains common.

The situation in these Central American countries is grim. Confronted with rampant gang violence and extreme poverty, it’s no surprise that children are crossing the border in search of safety and prosperity.

Rethinking Refugee Status

These children did not arrive on America’s doorstep to spread disease, steal jobs, or leech off American taxpayers, as so many xenophobic protesters and pundits have suggested. Like refugees all over the world, they came to survive.

Currently, the U.S. government defines a refugee as “someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”

Gang violence, considered a common crime, is not included. However, with gangs effectively controlling entire towns and neighborhoods—and causing children to flee hundreds of miles from home—it’s time to rethink who qualifies as a refugee.

After interviewing 400 migrant children and their families, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that 60 percent of them had legitimate claims for asylum. Many of these children were running from violent gangs that forced participation. If they are sent back, it is a virtual certainty that some will die.

In order to curb the flow of undocumented children coming into the United States, a massive overhaul of U.S. policies towards Latin American countries is required—as well as a comprehensive fix to our outdated immigration system, which has militarized the U.S. border, created a black market for smugglers, and incentivized unauthorized border crossers by putting legal entry out of reach for millions.

Border hawks say that migrants should “wait in line” to get legal status in the United States. But the line to get in is virtually endless, and for these children and their families, there is no time to wait.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.



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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

Blowback on the Border: The United States' Child Refugee Crisis

Monday, 21 July 2014 09:52
By Laura Carlsen, Foreign Policy in Focus | News Analysis


After three years of relative silence, the U.S. press has finally “discovered” the crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors piling up on the U.S. border. Although the coverage often began with moving stories of the hardships these young migrants faced, it soon turned ugly. For right-wing pundits and politicians, the “humanitarian crisis” has become a crackdown on kids.

The dominant narrative has been that foolish parents, perhaps duped by scheming criminal bands, are sending hapless children north to take advantage of loopholes in U.S. immigration practices.

This is just plain wrong. On every count.

Knowing the Risks

First, parents and migrating youth are not naive. They usually know the dangers, which include injury, rape, extortion, kidnapping, and even death. Parents carefully consider the risks before making the decision to spend thousands of dollars to send their children away.

The three countries responsible for the increase in child migrants are Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with El Salvador and Guatemala in fourth and fifth place, respectively. In certain neighborhoods in these countries, the homicide rate is far higher than the already high national rate, and young people are the most at-risk of all.

That’s why many Central American parents have concluded that the greatest risk is keeping their kids at home.

Consider the case of David. Both David’s parents live in the United States, where they had hoped to bring their son up due to the violence in his neighborhood. Salvadoran gangs had been hounding the boy to join them. Sometime after he refused, his body was found decapitated in a vacant lot on July 12. He was 10 years old. Family members were afraid even to go to his funeral for fear of retaliation.

A study by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that more than half of the child migrants had reported fleeing violence and threats, and were likely eligible for international protection. If they’re deported, many could face the same fate as David.

Family Reunification

An under-reported fact is that many parents are not sending their children north to be on their own. They are sending south for their children to join them in the United States.

I asked Father Alejandro Solalinde, who runs the Ixtepec migrant center in southern Oaxaca, about the sudden increase in minors migrating out of Central America. He replied that the increasing number of Central American children filling his shelter were the last link in a “chain of desperation.” The fathers migrated to support the families, then older brothers and sisters left to join the fathers, and finally mothers are leaving with the younger ones—or if the mother is already gone, they send for the children.

Children have a right to grow up with parents. Something is deeply wrong with economic integration and immigration policies that force them apart. Generations will carry the scars of separation, yet the issue of family reunification has scarcely surfaced in the current debate.

Rather than take any of this into account, the U.S. government has undertaken a propaganda campaign to convince Central Americans to stay put, as though the decision to migrate were a mere whim. While billboards popping up in Central America emphasize the risks of the journey, the State Department is focusing its efforts on “dispelling the misguided notion that these children will not face deportation proceedings.”

The Border Security Myth

There is a perception that “lenient” U.S. immigration policies—and false promises from scheming human smugglers—have encouraged new generations of Central Americans to take their chances at the U.S. border.

But the UN survey of some 400 child migrants and families found that only two listed permissive U.S. immigration practices as their reason for migrating. And if anything, the U.S. border is more militarized than ever, with record deportation rates.

Moreover, while human trafficking and organized crime are indeed established problems on the border, it’s actually a result of border control that is too strict, not too lenient. Tighter U.S. border security measures have made it nearly impossible for migrants to cross alone.

As with drug prohibition, policies to criminalize migration have created a black market that real criminals have eagerly claimed as their own. Today, the cost of migration has skyrocketed, and drug cartels earn millions taking migrants north. This leaves migrants extremely vulnerable to extortion and abuse, since when they are defined as “criminals” or “illegals,” they have no recourse to defend themselves.


The steady increase in child migrants dates back to 2011. Although the U.S. government is not solely at fault, what we’re seeing is the cumulative effect of years of policy failure.

Take trade policy. Since the North American and Central American Free Trade Agreements went into effect, millions of Mexicans and Central Americans have been economically displaced and forced to emigrate.

NAFTA pushed the Mexican migration rate up to half a million a year. In the first year of CAFTA alone, 11,457 jobs were lost in El Salvador, while the number of Salvadorans leaving for the United States increased from 507 per day to 740 per day. In Guatemala, transnational extractive projects are displacing indigenous and rural populations.

Honduras is the most dramatic case of a policy disaster. Following the country’s 2009 coup, which deposed the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, the U.S. government blocked a return to constitutional order by normalizing relations with the coup government. Post-coup Honduran governments have presided over rampant violations of human rights, a huge rise in organized crime, and a breakdown in the social fabric, leading to widespread delinquency.

The U.S.-funded drug war also accounts for much of the violence. Every war has its refugees. The war on drugs has proven to be no exception.

When counternarcotics efforts targeted drug lords in Mexico, they splintered traditional cartels and created violent rogue groups that spread throughout Mexico and into Central America. By fortifying abusive security forces in nations barely emerging from decades of military dictatorships, the drug war has meant a setback for both democracy and public safety.

The Best Interests of the Child

As the Obama administration and the right wing focus on how to keep the child refugees out of the country, too few have any concern for what domestic relations law calls “the best interest of the child.”

The House Progressive Caucus position, by contrast, has called on the U.S. government to uphold the children’s rights to due process and asylum, to provide adequate facilities for their care, and to review policies that contribute to forced migration, such as neoliberal trade policies and U.S. support for the drug war in Mexico and Central America.

The refugee crisis on the border is blowback for years of short-sighted policies that failed to consider the human consequences for the people of the region. If we fail to address these root causes, we will fail to solve the problem—no matter how much taxpayer money or Border Control we throw at it.

But most of all, we will fail the children.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

The Criminalization of Black Youth and the Rise of Restorative Justice

Sunday, 20 July 2014 00:00
By Max Eternity, Truthout | Interviews and Video

In the spring of 2014, on two separate occasions, African-American teenagers - a 15-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy - were pushed through windows by police. Fortunately, both teens survived their encounter, though it was a very close call for the boy. No reports of white teens being pushed through windows by police have been discovered. These violent incidents are just a couple of examples of how, for many African-Americans, youth offers little hope and few niceties.

"Black children are dehumanized to such an extent that they aren't perceived as children at all," writes Margaret Kimberly in "Police Target Black Children." Citing a new report published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Kimberly says African-American children "are assumed to be older, less innocent and inherently guilty."

Along with racial profiling and other legal harassment, like stop-and-frisk, being pushed through a window by police has apparently become a new reality for brown-skinned kids. Yet how is such aggression and violence justified by law enforcement, and are these incidents to be imagined as mere coincidence - or explained as reflective of black pathology rather than police pathology?

Among extrajudicial deaths at the hands of police and white vigilantes, the tragic stories of Travon Martin and Oscar Grant have garnered media attention, but are also highly contested narratives. Less talked about is the institutionalized climate of fear that has been normalized for brown-skinned youth - the daily domestic terror by police.

Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an associate professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York - CUNY, and in a 2011 article spoke to this type of fear conditioning, as contextualized in New York's "Stop and Frisk":

In 2009, of 576,394 stops and frisks [that] were performed . . . 84 percent of them were on blacks and Latinos. This is astronomically high, given that black and Latino compose roughly 26 and 27 percent of the population, respectively. The harassment that men of color often undergo via the police is a constant pressure. When walking through Harlem, I routinely see black boys approached by undercover officers and forced to submit to "random searches."

These searches are anything but random and serve to make young boys and men feel unsafe in their own communities. In the same way that young men of color are subject to an "invisible force" that disrupts their life without consent, young women of color feel the same. Somehow we live in communities where both men and women of color feel unsafe, displaced and harmed by harassment.

To this point, journalist Kai Wright, editor-at-large of Colorlines and a reporting fellow of the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, says that in the domain of law enforcement, African-American children are seen not only as threatening, but as "monsters." In addition to his writing, Wright is also at present working on a video series, "Life Cycles of Inequality." In a June 5 interview with Truthout, when asked to what extent he observes harsh and unjust treatment toward African-American youth by public school security officers and local police departments, Wright replied that the "harsh discipline that we've seen scale up in schools has been uniquely reserved for black students," and that "from their academics to discipline," there is this "idea that they are disruptive."


Wright speaks to an insidious institutional problem that continues to unfold. We examine it in two discussions below: a phone interview with Kai Wright, and then an on-site interview with Chief Allen Nance - the chief probation officer of San Francisco's Juvenile Hall - on June 13, 2014


[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

What Corporate Media and Corporate Latino Politicians Won't Tell You About Central American Child Refugees

Sunday, 20 July 2014 13:10
By Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report | Op-Ed


Why can't Latino politicians and corporate media call the current wave of Central American children refugees, when that's what they plainly are? What's the role of the US drug war, US trained cops and military, and US funded death squads in the violence and poverty that sent them here, and why won't Latino politicians mention that either? And why are none fleeing Nicaragua, which is just as poor as Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador?

Five and a half years into the Obama era, some of his African American supporters finally admit black voters didn't get much of substance for their nearly unanimous support of the First Black President. Of course the black political class does its level best to blame everything on evil racist Republicans who don't even like what the president had for breakfast. In a shameful flip on the notion that black faces in high places should represent us in the halls of power, our black political cognoscenti relentlessly belittle any expectation that the lives of real people down here on the ground ought to improve behind the election of the first black president as unsophisticated and unrealistic. Meanwhile black family wealth continues to fall, black unemployment and mass incarceration remain about the same, and our black political class continue their glittering careers. It could be worse. At least the First Black President hasn't deported two million of us.

Latino voters and the Latino political class supported the career of Barack Obama almost as solidly as blacks. They were promised much more than African Americans, but in the end got much less. Latinis were promised that the unjust immigration system would be fixed and a road to citizenship created for the millions of undocumented living among us. What Latino voters and the Latino political class got in return for their support of Obama was two million deportations, hundreds of thousands of families brutally separated and scattered by law, not entirely unlike black families in this country once were.

Just like the black faces in high places, the Latino political class doesn't represent its people to or within the system, they are actually one of the faces the capitalist system presents to the Latino community. So it has fallen to the Latino political class to defend the president, who by now has deported more people than any president before him, and to defend the US empire by obfuscating the reasons those child refugees are here in the first place.

Establishment Latino politicians like Chicago congressman Luis Gutierrez blame the Republicans as usual, for not allowing a vote on an immigration bill, and for being heartless, evil racists in general, and ask that the president do something generous and humane. But he won't. It is true that racist Republicans are clamoring for the children to be instantly deported, despite US law which says children from countries not bordering the US are entitled to individual hearings before immigration judges. Even though speedy deportation is illegal, and Republicans don't have the power to make the president do it, Obama has already begun deporting children without the hearings the law prescribes. How they'll manage to blame this on Republicans is a mystery.

What neither corporate media nor US Latino politicians will point out is that none of the current wave of refugees are coming from Nicaragua, although it has a similar history to Guatemala, Hondruas and El Salvador, and its just as poor. Why? According to NicaNet.Org, a project of the Nicaragua Solidary Committee.

“...Nicaragua’s homicide rate dropped to 8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. Honduras, with 92 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, has the highest murder rate in the world. El Salvador has 69, Guatemala 39, Panama 14.9 and Costa Rica 10.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants...

“The problem of the children migrants is blowback from US policy in the 1980s when our government trained and funded Salvadoran and Guatemalan military and police to prevent popular revolutions and more recently when the US supported the coup against President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. Those countries were left with brutal, corrupt armies and police forces whereas Nicaragua, with its successful 1979 revolution, got rid of Somoza's brutal National Guard and formed a new army and a new police made up of upstanding citizens.

“Who consumes all those drugs that arecausing all that violence and corruption in Latin America? Who has militarized the Drug War and is funding and training repressive militaries and police in the countries from which the children are fleeing? In both cases it is the United States.”

The ferocious Central American gangs we hear so much about are integral to the US-oriented drug traffic. Nicaragua isn't part of the US-oriented drug trade because it threw off US rule with a revolution in 1979. In the Reagan era the US fought a bloody contra war to overthrow the Nicaraguan government and bring the country under control of its puppets, but despite tens of thousands dead, the Nicaraguan people prevailed. Having done so, they can implement real community policing, reduce crime and provide real security to their people in ways neighboring countries can only dream of. Nicaragua's homicide rate is a third that of Mexico, and its socialist government is free to provide low-cost health care, education, food security, democracy and hope to its people. Hence Nicaraguans are not interested in smuggling themselves north. You'd think Latino politicians would be eager to acquaint a larger US public with these facts, backed up as they are by irrefutable UN statistics.

But like the black political class, they owe allegiance to the system, the empire that gave them their careers, not the Latino communities they ostensibly represent. So US Latino politicians, aspirants and most affiliated nonprofits don't dare explain this to their own communities, some of whom know it already, or to the larger American public which mostly does not.

As long as a black Democrat is in the White House, neither corporate media nor US Latino politicians will even call these refugees “refugees” even though that's what they plainly are, refugees from North America's drug wars, military coups, neoliberal economics and death squads. Refugees however, have certain rights under treaties and international law. They wouldn't want the president's hands, especially their president's hands tied by actually having to follow the law. And no matter who is president, meaningfully questioning the empire is rarely a good career move.

It's often observed that African Americans and Latinos in this country have a lot in common. Sometimes that is not good news, not at all.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.