A recent report by the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) explores the recent influx of unaccompanied undocumented children from Central America. The report, Forced from Home: The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America, documents both reasons for the increase in children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and how the U.S. government is responding to it.
The flood of children started arriving in October 2011, by April 2012 the Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) had on record 10,005 children in its care. The ORR is the U.S. agency tasked with caring for the health and wellbeing of unaccompanied undocumented children. Of the children, 35 percent came from Guatemala, 27 percent from El Salvador and 25 percent from Honduras.
In their research for finding reasons for the influx of children from three specific Central American countries, the WRC found an impressive and sudden increase in the violence and poverty of their home countries. Specific reasons included, rising influence of youth gangs, rape of girls as a means of control, poverty, high unemployment, and bad harvests. The report found that migration was a result of multifaceted, longstanding problems in their home countries for which there was no simple solution.
Meanwhile the U.S. government was forced to open several emergency shelters to house the children after they were released from Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) 72-hour holdings after they were first apprehended. Unfortunately, while waiting to be moved to more permanent ORR facilities, the children were kept for up to two weeks in CBP short-term facilities. These facilities were not meant to hold children as the lights stay on 24/7 and lack showers or recreation areas. The CBP short-term facilities became so overcrowded that children had to take turns lying down on the floor. Many people believed the protection and due process needs of the children were being ignored. The WRC also found that children had little or no access to Know Your Rights presentations and legal screenings.
The WRC concludes the report by giving recommendations to the U.S. government to adequately deal with the emergency situation. Recommendations include more federal agency funding for the HHS, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ); more support from The White House for these agencies; and adoption of new policies that ensure protection for at-risk children.
To read the full report, please click here.