Our Children: Unaccompanied Minors at the Border

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Miriam Uribe is a politics and Latin American studies major

This past summer, thousands of children fleeing Central America arrived at the border between México and the United States. Nothing is new about the migration of children to this country—however, the numbers of children detained at the border increased dramatically enough to make it to the news. With an already anti-immigrant sentiment in this nation, people were quick to point out that these kids are not “our own” so we should not care for them. Take, for example, the buses carrying children from detention centers that were stopped in Murrieta, California by protesters with signs such as “Agents secure our borders, not change diapers” and “Return to sender.”

Most of these kids are escaping from harsh and violent situations in their country. Some of these situations are tough enough that they could easily qualify for relief from deportation. However, the Department of Homeland Security has ordered to move cases of unaccompanied minors ahead of other cases that already exist in immigration court.  Immigration judges are required to have speedy hearings for these cases, a processes coined by lawyers as a “rocket docket”, which does not allow enough time to build a proper defense. Not to mention that there is no law requiring the government to assure that everyone has representation when going into immigration court. This means that many of these kids are going in front of a judge and having to represent themselves. Imagine being sixteen years, eight years, or even eighteen months old and having to represent yourself in a legal matter.

Therefore, it was a great step forward to see that the city of San Francisco allocated $2.1 million and Oakland $557, 000 towards legal aid for these children. Many of these kids fit the deportation relief profile perfectly, but without the help of a professional immigration lawyer, their cases might not be properly assessed and processed—which could potentially put these children in a life or death situation.

Making it to the United States means that many of them have already survived riding “La Bestia,” or the “The Beast,” a train that travels from Guatemala to Mexico. Taking that journey involves being at risk of being mugged by gangs, falling of the train and losing limbs, and suffering from lack of food and water.  However, being sent back home is even worse, as Los Angeles Times reported over the summer, when a child deported back from Honduras was shot and killed only hours after having arrived to his country. That is why these children would rather take the risk of riding “La Bestia” to the United States again than staying home with death constantly at the door. That is the reason why these funds for legal aid are so crucial in order to help protect these children from those situations.

Despite the fact that there are great cities like the ones by the Bay, there are still many barriers these children (and their families) have to face. Detention centers are overcrowded and in inhumane conditions. Just to give an example: immigration detention centers have a thing called the “icebox” where temperatures are intentionally lowered and people are placed in them for days—or even months—with hopes of causing fear and mental and physical fatigue in order for them to sign their “voluntary departure”. A thing that you wouldn’t think exists in 2014, but it does.

Perhaps if the United States was not as greedy and did not have the need to pass things such as the Central American Trade Agreement, people would be able to keep living in their countries and having a sustainable life by growing and selling their own crops. Although, we all know that this country has always relied on immigrant’s labor and that won’t stop any time soon. However, the United States cannot just show sympathy when it comes to people across oceans. It should show that same sympathy with the people on and inside their borders, the people that it has had a hand at forcing out of their countries. These children are our children and we need begin treating them like such.

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