Sunday, July 27, 2014

Central American presidents meet with Obama as thousands of Central American children are released to parents in the US

Presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala meet with President Obama

The leaders of Central America's Northern Triangle came to Washington, D.C. this week to talk about the crisis of unaccompanied minors flooding the southern borders of the US.   Their appearance kept the issue front and center in US media coverage.   In years of blogging about El Salvador, never has there been a period of so much coverage in mainstream US media about the problems of the region.

The AP reported about the meeting of Obama with the Central American leaders:
Obama, who met Friday with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, said the U.S. has compassion for the migrant children, but those who do not have a proper claim to remain in the United States will be turned back. At the same time, the regional leaders said the president offered them assurances that the rights of those children would be observed. 
"It is my hope that Speaker Boehner and House Republicans will not leave town for the month of August for their vacations without doing something to help solve this problem," Obama said after meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden and the three presidents from Central America. 
Obama played down a proposed pilot program that his administration is considering that would give refugee status to young people from Honduras. White House officials said the plan, which could be expanded to Guatemala and El Salvador, involves screening youths in their home countries to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. 
Obama said such an effort would affect only a small number of asylum seekers.
"There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for," Obama said. "If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it's important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants." 
Obama applauded efforts in Central America to conduct public awareness campaigns on the dangers of making a long trek to the U.S. border and to strengthen police efforts against smuggling operations. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security said it was boosting spending for law enforcement agencies in the Rio Grande Valley. The money would permit local police to support Customs and Border Protection by enhancing security in the region.
The Central American presidents, however, see this issue as much broader than simply dissuading parents from permitting their children to make the perilous journey north.  CBS News described the 5 issues the Central American leaders are emphasizing in their discussions with US government officials:  deportations, US immigration reform, security cooperation, economic development, and drug trafficking.

The UPI reported remarks from the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, about "ambiguity" in US policy :
Hernandez, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Thursday that the United States shares responsibility because of "the ambiguity that has been the hallmark of the debate of the reform of the immigration process in this country." He said the "coyotes" exploit those ambiguities to give potential customers a false impression of what awaits them in the United States.
The Christian Science Monitor reported the presidents' critique of US support for security and development programs in the region:
[The presidents of Guatemala and Honduras] sharply criticized the US program to help support better security in the region – the Central American Regional Security Initiative, or CARSI. Molina said it raised expectations and then failed in commitment. Hernández called it “almost a farce.” 
That’s right, Professor Hershberg says. “The Americans have not been willing to systematically rethink CARSI,” he said. Washington has no credible plan for long-term economic development of the region and is “obsessively security-focused.” But he also faulted both Central American countries for falling far short in their reform efforts, Honduras more than Guatemala, while praising El Salvador.
In an article titled Aid to El Salvador looms over Obama meeting. Politico linked the issues to the delayed Millennium Challenge Corporation aid funding to El Salvador
[T]he talking points for Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the newly elected president of El Salvador, are sure to include a priority of his own: final U.S. action on a long-awaited Millennium Challenge Corp. compact promising $277 million in economic assistance over five years for his small country.  Indeed, the two issues are inevitably intertwined and make for a revealing case study of how the U.S. deals — and doesn’t deal — with Central America.... 
In response, the Obama administration has pledged to do more to spur economic development, but already 10 months have passed since the MCC board first approved the El Salvador compact in September 2013. 
This is not a one-sided story: El Salvador’s political leadership shares in the blame. But there is growing pressure for Washington to wrap up the process given the heavy lift the U.S. wants from Sánchez Cerén on the migrant issue.Like Honduras and Guatemala — whose presidents are also part of Friday’s meeting with Obama and a prior lunch with Vice President Joe Biden — El Salvador’s government is to blame for not better protecting children from violence. 
But that same violence is driven by the influx of the drug trade — serving a U.S. market. And it is very hard politically for leaders to obstruct children trying to rejoin their parents in the U.S. — parents whose earnings are important to El Salvador’s economy and parents who find it harder to travel back and forth now because of the heightened U.S. border security.
As the leaders discuss governmental responses to the crisis, there is ongoing coverage of the reasons why children are arriving across the southern border of the US.   A public radio story titled Who Are the Kids of the Migrant Crisis? was typical of the coverage discussing the risks of gang-plagued neighborhoods.   To similar effect is a CBS News story focusing on young people who were picked up in Mexico before ever reaching the US and returned to El Salvador.  The Christian Science Monitor reports from El Salvador in
Child migrant crisis: Churches, aid workers on front lines in Central America, and the National Geographic has an article on child refugees and the US roots of gang violence titled American-Born Gangs Helping Drive Immigrant Crisis at U.S. Border.

Journalist Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique's Journey,  provided testimony on Capitol Hill about her latest visit to communities in Honduras and the level of gang violence there.

Most of these stories emphasized gang-related violence as a primary factor driving the flow of children towards the US southern border.   But other voices are emphasizing the importance of family reunification, and the yearning of parents in the US to have their children join them.

Remarks of Ruben Zamora, El Salvador's Ambassador to the United Nations, were widely reported:
Rubén Zamora ... told a recent Inter-American Dialogue panel that the surge of children to the border is a sign of upward mobility for new migrants. "The father or mother has special status in the U.S., but they left their child in El Salvador. Now they have the capacity to have the kids live with them in their own home. What father wouldn't ask for his own child?" said Zamora, according to Costa Rica's Tico Times. "The upward mobility of our community has created the conditions for that phenomenon."
Alberto Avendaño at El Tiempo Latino wrote about "a crisis of family separation":
The crisis at the border is a crisis of family separation that will not be solved by investing billions in repression. The US is home to millions of immigrant parents from Central America who want to live with their kids. Many of these parents cannot travel to their home countries because they are undocumented —and crossing the border is risky— or they “enjoy” special status such as TPS that allows them to work but not to travel outside the US. On the other hand, these parents are better off economically, socially integrated in their communities, and can afford to pay a coyote to bring their children illegally. 
The migrant parents cannot wait for the two magic bullets that can help alleviate this crisis: The socioeconomic development of Central America and a US Immigration Reform Law that generates an inclusive and comprehensive legal playing field including family reunification and no travel restrictions.
A thorough discussion of the issue "why now?" appeared in the online periodical El Faro under the headline-- Los niños no se van: se los llevan / The children don't leave, they are carried (Spanish only).   The article features a lengthy interview with a "coyote", a human smuggler, who has been smuggling Salvadorans to the US for 35 years.    (The current price is $7000).   Like Ruben Zamora, the coyote emphasized families' desire to be with their children now that they have the financial resources to have a coyote to safely carry their children to the border.  Once at the border they would make sure the children safely got to the US side where those carried children would report themselves to authorities who would then contact their parents in the US and release them to their custody. 

Some news coverage has talked about the processing of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors.  Once the children are here, they are being processed and released to sponsors in the US, who usually are parents or other close family members.  According to a report from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 30,340 unaccompanied minors have now left shelters for placements with sponsors in the US while awaiting their immigration proceedings:
When a child who is not accompanied by a parent or guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  ORR cares for the children in shelters around the country until they can be released to a sponsor, typically a parent or relative, who can care for the child while their immigration case is processed.  
Ensuring that a potential sponsor can safely and appropriately care for the child is a top priority.  A background check is conducted on all potential sponsors, and steps are taken to verify a potential sponsor’s identity and relationship to the child.  In some cases where concerns are raised, a home study is done. 
Before children are released to a sponsor, they receive vaccinations and medical screenings. We do not release any children who have a contagious condition. 
The sponsor must agree to cooperate with all immigration proceedings.
A New York Times article on the ORR report indicates that :
Officials have said that more than half of all children initially placed in shelters have gone on to be reunited with at least one parent already living in the United States, and 85 percent of all children have been placed with a close family member.
Finally, here are some opinion pieces about how the US should respond to the crisis:

Excerpts from a letter to President Obama from scholars of Central America:
Dear Mr. President: 
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 your 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 relatives. 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. Both the conditions of extreme insecurity in their homelands and the hardships of family separation dictate that these youth should be reunited with family members in the U.S. as swiftly as possible....
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.
Conservative commentator George Will on Fox News Sunday:
“[M]y view is we ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans,’” Will said. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these eight-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.” ...
“We can handle the problem is what I’m saying,” he added. “We have what Emma Lazarus famously called ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’ a long time ago and lot more people than this. 


1 comment:

Michael Johnson said...

these scholars are correct in their letter,