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A Journey of Fear: The Status of Child Migrants

US-Mexico Border near Campo, California [SOURCE: qbac07 via Flickr)

US-Mexico Border near Campo, California [SOURCE: qbac07 via Flickr]

BY RACHEL KELSOMarch 30, 2015

Citizenship and civilian rights, including safety, are often taken for granted. Those who are fortunate to be born in industrialized and socially supportive countries often do not witness firsthand the struggles that others in the world face. It is important to acknowledge that when much is given, much is expected. Being born in the United States, I have been given much and I count my blessings for my security, my health, my family, and my protection under this country’s laws. Unfortunately, not everyone receives these privileges that I consider to be basic human rights.

Currently, around eleven million undocumented immigrants from Latin America reside in the United States. Of these immigrants, roughly 87% of males work and 82% of females work. 61% of Latin American immigrants are between 25 and 44 years of age, and four million have US-born children. A third live below the poverty line, a third own homes, and a third have health insurance. Migrants from Latin America have made their homes in the Land of Opportunity, and many U.S. citizens still feel justified in shutting out these migrants, despite the fact that the entire U.S. culture is derived from immigration and acceptance.

President Obama, despite winning the “Latino vote” in recent elections, has deported more immigrants than any other president, passing the two million-deportee benchmark. However, under the executive action plan he introduced on November 20, 2014, roughly four million Latin American immigrants will be granted residency. To be eligible, they must have lived in the US for more than five years; have children born in the United States; pass a background check; and pay taxes. If these criteria are met, immigrants will be granted residency in the US, not citizenship. This action applies backwards; it will not affect future migrants. While this executive action is a step in a positive direction, its execution continues to be delayed by Constitutionality rulings in the courts.

Youths make up the largest demographic of Latin American migrants with over 70,000 children traveling alone to the U.S. border in 2014. Many people assume migration occurs due to economic hardships. In this line of thinking, it is easy to become bitter and fall into the mindset that they are “stealing jobs.” But this reason only represents a fraction of those who migrate. In reality, many youth migrants make the journey primarily out of fear.

Many Latin American countries are fighting a myriad of battles. The war on drugs, officially initiated by President Nixon in 1971, has negatively affected Latin America by militarizing approaches in dealing with drugs and delinquency. As a result, the streets of Latin American countries have become riddled with militarized police personnel and drug lords, making it dangerous to be a neutral civilian. With this drug problem comes a gang problem. Gangs dominate the social scene in Latin America primarily in Central American countries. As young people enter adolescence, they are often expected to join their neighborhood gang. If they choose not to, they are beaten and sometimes killed. The crime rate of Latin American countries–particularly “the triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador–is astronomical, as Honduras is the murder capital of the world with El Salvador as a runner-up. Life in Latin America is often dangerous for youths, so migration appears to be a valid solution; this migration is for safety reasons over economic reasons.

As courts process thousands of the child migrants’ deportation hearings, many with questionable access to a fair trial, I continue to believe that child migrants from Latin America should be granted refugee status. They face danger in everyday life; so much danger, in fact, that they are willing to endure the risk and hardships associated with traversing across Mexico and crossing the ever-increasingly militarized border into the United States. Border patrol has been increased as a deterrence technique, but it has not had the intended effect; the same amount of migrants attempt to cross–more even–but it is more dangerous, more costly, and more often ends in death. As it is obvious that conditions in Latin America are drastically less than desirable, to say the least, children who migrate to the United States should be recognized as refugees and therefore protected. As of now, this is not the case; this results in overcrowding of detainment centers, felony cases against children, and youth deportations.

As Catholics, we believe in inclusivity, acceptance, and open-heartedness. For this reason, we must support undocumented immigrants that leave their homes in search of safety and security. Enduring the above listed hardships is absolutely justification for being considered a refugee, and the children who migrate from Latin America undeniably require our support, love, acceptance, and warm welcome into the Land of the Free.

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