Petition on Central American Children

As scholars of Central America and migration, we have written the below statement to urge the Obama Administration to treat the unaccompanied child migrants at the border as refugees. Some of you saw it when it was circulated earlier. If you support the statement, PLEASE CLICK ON THIS Central American Children LINK AND THEN ADD YOUR SIGNATURE AND AFFILIATION at the end of the document: Our goal is to send the petition to President Obama and publicize it by July 22, 2014.

The original statement is a product of collaboration among Andrea Dyrness of Trinity College; Lisa Maya Knauer of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; Ellen Moodie of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Debra Rodman of Randolph Macon College, with helpful comments from Geoff Thale at WOLA, Walt Little of SUNY-Albany, and Sonja Wolf of INSYDE. We’ve negotiated the wording carefully.
Thanks for your support.

Statement on Central American Children at the Border

As scholars of Central America and migration who are familiar with the conditions that cause so many children to flee their homelands, and mindful of the historical relationship between the United States and this region, we call on the Obama Administration to treat the “unaccompanied minors” at the border as refugees who are deserving of protection, due process, and humane treatment. We ask that they have access to legal representation by volunteer or government funded lawyers, in order for them to be reunited with their families as speedily as possible. Young migrants arriving from the Northern Triangle–Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras–face real and credible threats to their lives and safety in their hometowns. Further, many of them already have parents or other relatives living and working in the United States as well as personal relationships that would facilitate their transition to life in the U.S. Both the conditions of extreme insecurity in their homelands and the hardship
s of family separation dictate that these youth should be reunited with family members in the U.S. as swiftly as possible.

The extreme violence and economic insecurity in Central America, as well as the role of migration as a survival strategy, have deep and well-documented roots. The migration of children and youth from Central America is not new. Extortion and death threats from street gangs (some of which have their roots in Los Angeles) or organized criminals with ties to security forces have caused internal displacement and international migration for more than a decade. The local police cannot be trusted to protect these vulnerable communities and, indeed, are often part of the problem. While U.S. politicians apparently see this as a security problem for the U.S., to be resolved with more walls and detention centers, those who are truly living in insecurity and vulnerability are Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans.

Young people whose parents have migrated earlier in search of economic survival are especially vulnerable. Public schools, which should provide safety and opportunity for local youth, are often avenues of gang recruitment. In El Salvador, our research shows, youth gangs within the public high schools are connected to one of the larger street gangs, either the 18th Street (Calle 18) or Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13). Students who graduate from these institutes are expected to join their respective gangs; those who refuse are threatened and some killed. In Guatemala, we have seen that those with migrant relatives are frequently targets for extortion. Indeed, migration often begins internally, as young people flee their homes to escape such threats. But it can be nearly impossible to escape the threats and assaults. The extortionists and gangs are present throughout all three countries, and local gang cliques can be linked to national and sometimes even transnational criminal networks; fre
quently, finding a job or even working as a vendor involves paying “rent” to the gangs. Without economic options, police protection, or basic public services, eventually many people see migration beyond national borders as the only option. While Costa Rica and Mexico have also received an increase of asylum-seekers from this region, the vast majority has come to the United States, where family ties and historical geopolitical relationships have made migration trajectories all but inevitable. Child testimonies reported recently in the media echo our long-term research findings: these young people fear violence and hope to reunite with family members. Deportation would send many of them back to almost certain death and further destabilize the region, ultimately triggering more migration.

We want to emphasize that the United States is complicit in the conditions that cause so many to migrate. The reasons are many: U.S. historical support for military dictatorships and regimes of violence in the region, its promotion of free trade agreements and economic policies that have undermined subsistence agriculture and eroded public services, and its increasingly harsh immigration policies and practices that have separated families and deported too many whose livelihoods and security were in the United States. We have an opportunity and a responsibility now to make up for some past mistakes by offering humane treatment and consideration to the new arrivals and swiftly reuniting them with their family members.

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