According to a School of the Americas Watch report:
The number of children attempting to cross the border into the United States has risen dramatically in the last five years: In FY 2009, roughly 6,000 unaccompanied minors were detained near the border. Credible estimates project that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will detain as many as unaccompanied minors by the end of FY 2014. Approximately 28% of the children detained this year are from Honduras, 24% from Guatemala, and 21% from El Salvador.
People asked me about this several times during my visit in the US. I do not have a simple answer.
A bishop testifying before congress proposed violence as a major cause. I think this is partly true – especially in migrations from urban centers where there is intense violence, for example in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula here in Honduras. But I think poverty is also a major cause.
Some US conservatives blame Obama, claiming that he’s soft on undocumented migrants. (Note that I do not talk about “illegal immigrants.” As Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has stated: “No human being is illegal.”)
Someone I know in the US claimed that Obama policy is giving assurances that children who return will not be deported. The truth is that two years ago Obama policy of non- deportation of minors who came was only for those who arrived in the US before 2007.
One morning in the US I heard a commentator on NPR speak and he made the most sense as he spoke of the growing poverty in Central America. He also noted that the coyotes who contract the transit of people from Central America to the US have twisted US policy and told people that minors will not be deported. “Why?” the reporter asked. It’s the money! Each person using a coyote pays a fee often between $5,000 and $10,000 – with no guarantee of arrival in the US.
But a short good analysis can be found by the Sisters of Mercy here. It's probably one of the best available.
I have many questions about this recent phenomenon.
For example, I would really like to know the ages of the child immigrants. The US considers minors any person under 18. But here in Honduras, where most of the children only have access to grade schools, there are many children and young people above 12 years of age who are working (or looking for work). In the countryside there is very little access to the equivalent of high school. Some work during the week (often in the family’s fields) and go to school in nearby cities on the weekends. So, I consider the case of 15 to 18 year olds very different from those under 15. I don’t know how many young people under 18 have asked me about going to the US. How many are between 15 and 18?
I would also like to know how many have parents or close relatives in the US. Sending for children because of fear of violence or poverty is very different from children being sent from her or leaving from here on their own.
It would also help to know where the young people come from. There is a map and some statistics in a Mother Jones article.
But even these need more careful analysis. According to Home Land Security figures, there are more than 200 unaccompanied minors from Santa Rosa de Copán. But do these young people and children come from the city or from the many outlying villages?
There are so many questions and so simplistic responses do not serve the interests of the young people involved.
I do however believe that poverty and violence, together with the lack of decent police and justice systems, are major contributing factors.