Surge in Child Migrants
According to current news reports, an increasing number of unaccompanied minor children are arriving in the United States. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/18/nyregion/immigration-child-migrant-surge-in-New-York-City.html?emc=edit_th_20140618&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=27740028 The Community of Friends in Action is concerned about this situation and about the reactions of some U.S. residents. Many people seem to be unaware of what is causing this migration. Two good resources are the film “Which Way Home” which can be ordered from the internet, or the CoFiA video, “Why I am Here.”
Vice President Biden and U.S. Senator Menendez from New Jersey were both right when they said recently that nothing will be resolved until we address the root causes of the influx.
The immediate cause of the inflow from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala is stark and simple. Children and their families are fleeing violence in their home countries. Notably, there is no such flow from Nicaragua, an even poorer country. The difference? U.S. foreign policy, which has supported the regimes in the other countries which are now permitting or creating the violence, but which does not have a similar relationship with Nicaragua.
The Community of Friends in Action has worked with the Guatemalan community in Eastern Bergen County for many years. During this time, U.S.-supported wars in Guatemala killed thousands of indigenous Mayans, and trade treaties, such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement, were written to favor U.S. business and further decimated the local economy. The current President of Guatemala was one of the generals who led the massacres, and his regime has permitted and even carried out much of the current violence against the population. Civil society has been under attack throughout the lives of these children, their parents, and their grandparents. The U.S. continues to support the governments that permit and benefit from these conditions.
For many years, Guatemalan teens have come to work here, usually joining fathers or brothers or cousins. What has changed is that more and younger children, and girls, are now coming as a direct result of the current high level of violence. The fee “coyotes” charge for safe transport has also increased, from a previous $4000-$5000 per person to a current $8000 for an adult, and a variable $1000-$4000 for a child. Although coyotes have a bad reputation here, we are told that many are both honest and competent, and the migrants view their fees as reasonable. We were told of one family whose employer paid the fee in order to get the employee, who had gone to get her children, back into the county.
The speakers also stressed that even though the facilities being used to house the children are generally secure and safe, we must always be vigilant. When compared to the conditions the children endured both at home and on the way to this country, they are not being mistreated. Sleeping on the floor, with makeshift blankets, is balanced by receiving three meals a day, having the use of toilets, laundry facilities and fresh clothing, toothbrushes, and showers-–at least beats living in daily fear of violence and the dangers of riding on the top of trains, sleeping by the tracks, scrounging for food and suffering physical abuse and rape as they travel. (continued in next post)
The administration’s published plan for aid to the Central American Regional Security Initiative proposes to award $9.6 million to the participating countries to receive and reintegrate the returning migrants, and $161.5 million to combat crime and increase cooperation with the region. But reintegrating these children into a society from which they fled in fear for their lives is not the answer. In the short term things like safe houses, shelters for women and children, effective child welfare systems in the home country are obvious requirements. In the immediate future, though, we must stop arming brutal regimes, tie any future aid to the creation of economic equality, eliminate the most abusive aspects of the Central American Free Trade Agreement so the farmers of Central America have an equal economic playing field with U.S. farmers, and shut down our punitive, extraordinarily expensive, and unworkable border security apparatus. Catering to the prejudices and increasing the fears of the American public will only make things worse, for us and for the migrants.
Contrary to popular opinion here, we need these families and their children. In 1900, the ratio of U.S. children to elderly was almost 10 to 1. After 2030 the ratio is expected to be 1.25 to 1. Who is going to take care of us old people, and of our children when they become old? Who will pay in to Social Security to be sure it can continue to meet its obligations? The young, hard-working migrant families are a ready made pool of human capital that can meet these needs. They must be welcomed, given some kind of legal status, allowed to work legally and to pay taxes. The children must be cherished and educated, not just because they are children and all children deserve to be cherished and educated, but because they are “human capital” for our own economy. Time to start thinking out of the “detain and deport” box.