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Life and death on the Rio Grande

| August 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

The US is currently facing a humanitarian crisis as unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied children and teenagers – many as young as nine years old – flow across its southern border into Texas via the Rio Grande in Mexico.

They are escaping violence and lawlessness in central American countries like Guatemala, Peru and El Salvador, and rely on dangerous human smuggling networks to transport them up through Mexico.

Under federal law, US immigration authorities cannot turn away any children arriving from noncontiguous countries.

By the end of 2014, US government officials forecast that about 90 000 minors (more than 120 000 are expected next year) will have sought asylum in the US.

Whilst many of these children claim they are searching for their parents who also sought sanctuary in the US, they face the threat of deportation orders, yet US authorities say the country simply cannot afford to fly each child back to their native land. Nor, say those politicians opposed to granting mass asylum, can American taxpayers shoulder the financial burden of long-term care for each border-crosser (the total amount could be more than US$1.4 billion per year).

The issue has caused furious political finger-pointing and some predict that it will damage the Democrats’ attempts to make immigration easier for those in real need. Both Republicans and Democrats, however, agree that a partial solution is to expedite the stabilisation of political and social conditions in trouble spots in central America.

A large proportion of refugees are not staying confined to the makeshift camps along the border. Some are released to temporary guardians, others flee further. In June, Miami-Dade County sought additional federal funding to educate the sudden influx of new scholars who arrived unannounced, mainly from Honduras.

Maryland, California, Washington and New York City are also struggling to accommodate the educational and social needs of new arrivals, many of whom do not speak English and are deeply traumatised by their experiences.

“We know that the same number of boys and girls leave, but 75% of boys arrive, and 25% of girls,” says a representative of the Catholic Charities group that is helping out at the border camps, intimating that many young girls get sold into prostitution before even reaching Mexico. World Refugee Day is on 20 June every year. Turn to page 90 to learn more about books for young readers on this theme.

Category: Spring 2014

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