It seems you can’t turn on the TV or browse the Internet without stumbling upon someone debating US immigration policy. No matter where your own views may lie on the subject, the sad fact remains that many of these immigrants are innocent children. This year, 60,000 – 90,000 children, traveling without adults, are expected to cross the Mexican border into the US. This number has doubled every year since 2012.
The children come from Central America – El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – making the long trek north through Mexico, sometimes with the help of a “coyote,” a person who specializes in the smuggling of humans, but often alone or in a group with other children.
Many children make the dangerous journey by train, climbing up and clinging to the roof of rail cars. Those who survive tell of watching other children fall off, to be maimed or killed.
Why would anyone send their child unaccompanied on such a long, dangerous journey? Because it is more dangerous to stay where they are.
These Central American countries are plagued by violence. Enabled by desperate poverty and inadequate policing, drug cartels and criminal gangs have taken control in some areas, in recent years using young children as drug mules and forced labor. The drug lords recruit the very young, targeting schools, community centers, and even church youth groups. Now more than ever, children younger than 13 make up a large percentage of the drug labor force. Those who refuse to join gangs are publically raped and beaten as examples to other child “recruits.”
Seeing this violence, families believe the only way to keep their children safe is to send them to the US. They hope the children will be able to cross the border undiscovered, or they believe rumors that once on US soil, the children will be allowed to stay, perhaps with family already living here, or with a guardian. Unfortunately for these children, that’s simply not the case. Most children who try to cross are apprehended. Some 47,000 were apprehended just last year. Others simply turn themselves in.
Regardless of how they end up in custody, the result is the same. They are sent to temporary shelters, usually small rooms holding many children, often lacking even the most basic comforts, for up to two weeks. From there, they might be placed in the custody of a sponsor, but almost always the deportation process begins within a month.
There are courts set up to hear cases where the child may be eligible for a visa or asylum, but just getting a hearing can take years. The path to US citizenship for someone arriving illegally is no easier for a child than for an adult, and even though critics say the current US administration wants to allow more immigrants to stay, tens of millions of dollars were recently allotted to programs that tighten control of the borders.
International Samaritan serves all of these Central American countries. The little ones who are beaten, raped, and forced into servitude by criminal gangs are no different than children who attend our schools, churches, and community centers.
One way to combat the criminals who prey on children is to alleviate the conditions of poverty that put them at risk. Every donation you make to International Samaritan helps continue and expand our services in these countries. Through education, proper health care and nutrition, community building, and other good works, we can help these kids thrive in safe communities. An effective immigration solution will not be found solely in passing laws and guarding borders.