Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues

Unaccompanied Minors: Keep Them or Send Them Back? A Political Game

3 Comments

Annielle Makon

Tens of thousands of undocumented, unaccompanied immigrants under the age of 18 have crossed into the United States every year.[1] Since 2013, however, the United States has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of unaccompanied migrating children arriving to the country, predominately at the U.S./Mexico border.[2] The majority of the migrant children have come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, three nations plagued by organized crime, drug trafficking, and widespread corruption.[3] Gang violence in El Salvador and in urban areas of Guatemala have escalated dramatically in recent months since a weak truce among rival gangs has evaporated.[4] Gang violence has plagued the youth, especially because the gangs are targeting schools and neighborhoods.[5] This massive influx of migrants is placing extra pressure on US lawmakers, spurring even more debate on how to reform immigration policy.[6] President Obama has even called the situation a humanitarian crisis and has sent federal officials to create temporary housing in three states for the migrant children.[7]

Migrant Surge

The Dangers of Migrating

Many flee to escape the horrors of their home country.  Unbeknownst to them, the horror of the migration journey is equally terrible. There have been stories of extreme danger and criminal mistreatment along their journey.[8] Child migrants have experienced abuse and violence at the hands of drug and human traffickers, and even law enforcement.[9] Women and girls are at a high risk for rape and sexual assault.[10] Minors who begin their journey to the United States sometimes find that what they had agreed to do in the US changed or they are required to work or provide sex to “clients” to pay off their debts.[11] Additionally, many of those who are accompanied by smugglers are abandoned at the first sign of trouble, left even more vulnerable than when they began their journey to the United States.[12] Even with these many dangers, migrants continue to make the journey because of the promise of freedom from violence motivates them.

U.S. Government (In)Action

The U.S. immigration system, as a whole, is long overdue for an overhaul. Republicans have passed legislation to force the Obama administration to quickly deport the undocumented immigrants.[13] Yet, the chances of that this legislation becomes a law are slim.

ImmigrantChildren

Currently, many of the unaccompanied minors are being sent to Arizona, though they will not stay there indefinitely.[14] The goal is to process each child within 72 hours and either turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation proceedings or to the Health and Human Services Department (HHSD) to reunite them with their families or place them in foster homes (pending deportation proceedings).[15] In addition, the Obama administration has partnered with the Mexican, Guatemalan, and Honduran governments by placing a public service announcement regarding the dangers of sending unaccompanied minors across the border.[16] Additionally, the Obama administration has stated that the unaccompanied minors are not entitled to any kind of residency or protected status.[17] Yet, they still come.

Domestically, there needs to be reform within the court system. There are roughly 260 immigration judges in the United States and each judge hears about 1,500 cases annually.[18] The unaccompanied Mexican and Central American minors seeking asylum is not as simple as cases from other countries since they often take longer to adjudicate.[19] Whether asylum can be granted to the unaccompanied minor depends on the ability of the minor’s home country government to control non-state actors.[20] Backlog cases have not been this high since 1994, when there were nearly 425,000 cases pending.[21] Yet, they still come.

ChildMigrants

Internationally, the United States owes these children no legal duty. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention) is an international human rights treaty that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children.[22] The Convention defines a child as any individual under the age of eighteen and requires that the state act in the best interest of the child.[23] Article 19 of the Convention states that the parties must “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence.”[24] Therefore, nations that ratify this convention are bound to it by international law.[25]  Although, the United States played an active role in drafting the Convention they have yet to ratify it.[26]  The Convention is unlikely to be ratified in the near future because it forbids both the death penalty and life imprisonment for children.[27] Therefore, by not ratifying the treaty the United States owe no international obligations to the unaccompanied minors. Yet, they still come.

This immigration problem is a complex issue with no easy answers. The main issue should be addressing the root causes of the flight and protecting the children in the process. The US and Central American governments need to address the economic and violence issues that cause these minors to flee. Most importantly, we need to stop treating child migration the same as adults. They should be treated and protected as children. The US government needs to focus its priorities on protection and less on enforcement. These children are in need of protection, not deportation.

Annielle Makon is a third year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. Candidate (’15). She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Sociology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. While studying Political Science, Annielle developed a passion for human rights and international relations. In addition to being a CICL Student Fellow, Annielle is an Associate Editor on the Journal of International Law. Annielle also interns at Amnesty International in the Sub-Saharan Africa unit.

[1] Jonathan Ernst, Record number of undocumented minors entering US – report, Reuters (January 31, 2014) http://rt.com/usa/record-undocumented-minors-entering-us-441/.

[2] Mark Seitz et al., Report of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (November 2013) http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/upload/Mission-To-Central-America-FINAL-2.pdf.

[3] Ernst, supra  note 1.

[4]Id.

[5]Id.

[6] Ernst, supra note 1.

[7]Bob Ortega, 5 answers: Why the surge in migrant children at border?, The Republic (June 10, 2014) http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2014/06/09/immigrant-children-arizona-border-answers/10246771/.

[8] Seitz, supra note 2.

[9] Seitz, supra note 2.

[10] Seitz, supra note 2.

[11] Seitz, supra note 2.

[12] Seitz, supra note 2.

[13] Evan Perez, Number of unaccompanied minors crossing into U.S. tops 60,000, CNN (August 2, 2014) http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/02/us/border-crisis-milestone/index.html.

[14] Ortega, supra  note 7.

[15] Ortega, supra  note 7.

[16] Ortega, supra  note 7.

[17] Ortega, supra  note 7.

[18] Hayley Munguia, The Unaccompanied Minor Crisis Has Moved From The Border To The Courts, Fivethirtyeight (October 2013) http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-unaccompanied-minor-crisis-has-moved-from-the-border-to-the-courts/

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Convention on the Rights of the Child, Sept. 2, 1990, A/RES/44/25.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

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Author: Ius Gentium

Ius Gentium is a legal forum for the University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows to write on and discuss international and comparative legal issues.

3 thoughts on “Unaccompanied Minors: Keep Them or Send Them Back? A Political Game

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Please read Annielle’s great piece.

    It is also important to keep in mind the grotesque abuses that are ongoing. It requires a lot more attention and action. Actions that governments may not actively put on their agenda if we are not taking an active interest in the matter.

    Actor Michael Sheen, a UNICEF ambassador visiting Guatemala said: “Just in the first two months of this year, I think something like 850 children have disappeared. That’s extraordinary.”

    It is astonishing. It beckons more of us to be seized about the matter. Bring it up in conversations and find out how you could contribute to alleviating the predicament. I hope to see it more in the social agenda and curricula of law schools.

    For an article containing current statistics and a couple of video interviews with Sheen, please go here: http://www.itv.com/news/2015-03-09/why-guatemala-is-the-worst-place-to-be-a-child/

  2. Thank you for re-blogging!

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