What’s bringing so many children and families to decide a dangerous trip, not accompanied by parents and smuggled into the U.S. with an uncertain future, is better than their alternatives?
According to a recent article in the New York Times, workers at the San Pedro Sula morgue in Honduras said the number of murdered bodies they receive is significantly higher today than it was a year ago, including those of children. Stories in the media speak of young children forced to work as lookouts, messengers or spies for the gangs. Eight children, between the ages of seven and 13, were kidnapped and killed in La Pradera barrio in May. Word on the street is that they were killed for refusing to join the dominant local gang.
While horrifying, this is the reality many children in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala face every day.
The root causes of the current exodus of children and families from these three countries are not universally agreed upon, but many organizations link the exodus to a rise in violence related to gangs and drug cartels. Since October of 2013, more than 80,000 children have made their way to the U.S. as part of this exodus. More than 50,000 made the thousand-mile journey without a parent, risking rape, murder, torture, and more to escape conditions in their home country.
This humanitarian crisis has affected not only the U.S. Since 2008, neighboring countries have seen a 712 percent increase in immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala requesting asylum. A recent investigation by the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees found that more than half of the unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. were eligible for international protection, but that many were not receiving this protection.
The U.S. is one of three countries that have not signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. has also not signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees or the Cartegena declaration on refugees. As a result, though the U.S. frequently encourages other countries to generously accept refugees, it has not signed agreements which would hold the U.S. accountable for welcoming refugees such as those from Central America.
Currently, many members of the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration would like to weaken protections to allow children from Central America to be quickly deported after a fifteen-minute interview. That’s less than the time it takes to watch the commercials aired during a one-hour TV show. These due process protections are crucial for ensuring that children and families are properly screened and protected.
As Christians, we cannot stand behind actions that remove due process for children fleeing violence and threaten to send them quickly back into dangerous situations. The Bible reminds us to, “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-3) Our current actions do not promote love. The children coming across our border have the potential to become future leaders of peace, yet we are looking for ways to return them to violence and suffering. Rather than remove their right to due process, we should be helping those countries address the root causes of violence and poverty in their home communities.