Why are Children Dying While Migrating to the United States?

July 8, 2014

A boys shows a U.S. flag as President Barack Obama speaks about immigration at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, in 2011. (Photo credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
A boys shows a U.S. flag as President Barack Obama speaks about immigration in 2011 at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas (Photo credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images).

President Obama has responded to the recent surge in unaccompanied minors crossing the Mexican border with a $1 million ad campaign aimed at Central Americans.

The U.S. government wants to send two main messages – the journey to the U.S. is extremely dangerous, and those caught, including children, will be deported.

U.S. policy has been designed to deny migrants access to relatively safe areas along the Mexican border.
This campaign addresses only one of the many steps that Amnesty International has called for in its recent statement, “United States and other regional governments failing to protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Amnesty agrees that the U.S. government should provide warnings about “patterns of abuse experienced by migrants.” These ads must be accompanied, however, by information about migrants’ rights, including access to services and procedures for filing complaints when their rights are violated.

It is not enough to simply warn about the perilous conditions facing migrants. The U.S. government must help change these conditions.

Amnesty International has documented how U.S. policy has been designed to deny migrants access to relatively safe areas along the Mexican border and direct them into “remote, uninhabited expanses of land and sea along the border” placing them “in mortal danger.”

In addition to deadly terrain, migrants traveling through these areas face kidnapping, extortion, sexual abuse, and murder at the hands of criminal gangs. The U.S. government can, and must, reduce these dangers by reversing the policies that drive migrants into these areas.

Furthermore, these policies are based on the false assumption that increasing the risks associated with traveling to the U.S. will deter Mexicans and Central Americans from making the journey.

As Jeanette Aguilar, the head of the Public Opinion Institute at the Central American University (IUDOP) explains, however, “The violent situation here [in Central America] has reached such levels that no measures will stop them from emigrating, no matter the dangers they face.”

The U.S. Government’s warning that these children will be deported is also highly problematic. Each and every individual has the right to seek asylum and protection on the merits of his or her case. Yet the Obama Administration has made a blanket statement that is – at the very least – prejudicial against the due process guarantees enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Indeed, the U.S. Government itself recognizes that these children face serious threats in their home countries.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, for example, “Salvadoran and Honduran children … come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.”

Similarly, the State Department considers El Salvador to be “one of the most violent countries in the world,” with “crimes of every nature occur[ring] 24 hours a day.”

Children and youth in the region also face dangers from the police and the military, who often target young people as suspected gang members solely on the basis of their age.

Then, of course, there are the vigilante groups that brutally murder young people they accuse of gang activity without any evidence or due process.

In this context, Amnesty International reminds the U.S. government that it must “ensure that no child is returned to a country where he or she would be at risk of serious human rights abuses.”