DIY: Background and Context for the Crisis of Unaccompanied Children

Central America Map 2The cable “news” coverage of the refugee crisis on our southern border is such that I’ve surfed the channels to find other fare.  I am bored with the Theater Critics — Should the President go to the border? Yes, only if one believes that all the resources required for a presidential visit should be tied up providing security and facilities — while The Problem remains unresolved and staff time and effort is at a premium.   Of course we’re all aware that television broadcasts require pictures.  Therefore, it’s no surprise at all that the cable entertainment industry is clamoring for those Photo-Ops.  Their priority is to provide ‘content’ with pictures, preferably the moving variety, and covering the process by which we attempt to cope with refugees from terrorized areas isn’t full of those Sound and Fury moments beloved by broadcasters.

I am equally bored with the ‘political ramification’ speculation.  “What will this mean for the mid-term elections? Who is to blame? How will this affect the President’s poll numbers?  At this point — Who cares?  We have thousands of families and children from Central America waiting for processing, waiting in rather dismal conditions in emergency housing.  While children are sleeping on cots covered with survival blankets, the DC press pundits are offering endless, breathless, speculation, and the interminable erection of assertions presented as fact, contentions transformed into truth, and context reduced to arguments from authority.

A person could easily come to the horrific conclusion that since politics is about all they know, the pundits and chatterati are simply speaking to the only context they comprehend — everything is political.  To say this is shallow might be comparable to offering that DC Pundit X’s knowledge of the situation in Central America, the vagaries of U.S. foreign policy toward the region in the last 30 years, and the economic complications created by NAFTA and CAFTA, is about an inch up the trunk of a ceiba tree in Guatemala.

So, they chatter. They broadcast dueling talking points. They interview each other.  They offer little more depth than the Sea of Azov.

Little wonder ‘the kids’ aren’t getting their news from television.  Little wonder more people are using Internet searches to find relevant information and contextual analysis.   There are some good resources out there, but it will take some time and effort to find them.  Tired of the shrill sycophants? The shilling talking point distributors? The Made For TV Breathless Broadcasts?  Here are some antidotes to the toxicity, vacuity, or good old fashioned banality of the media:

Recommended Reading

 A good general article from the left perspective comes from Justin Akers-Chacon writing for the San Diego Free Press, in “Central American Children Forced on a Dangerous Journey.”  The author emphasizes the U.S. support for dictatorships and the instability that has created, and takes some shots at the effects of CAFTA on the economies of Central American countries.   An article by James North, writing for the Nation, provides some background information which centers on U.S. foreign policy in Central America.

A more specific essay, focused more intensely on the current situation, is from the Guardian, in an article by Jo Tuckman, “Flee or Die.”  One of the better statistical presentations on the immediate situation comes from Tom K. Wong’s “Statistical Analysis Shows That Violence, Not Deferred Action, Is Behind the Surge of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border,” for the Center for American Progress.  Brianna Lee’s piece for the International Business Times, “Are Central American Children Refugees or Economic Migrants?” inquires if we are asking the proper questions, and looks at how the questions shape the narratives.  Scarlett Aldebot-Green argues in her article for Foreign Policy that the children are refugees and should be treated as such.  Alan Greenblatt provides a short summary of “What’s Causing The Latest Immigration Crisis,” for NPR.   If you have the patience for the download, HUNC has an executive summary of “Children on the Run,” (pdf) which puts the problem in a more regional perspective.

One of the often cited, and least often thoroughly explained elements,  is the  child trafficking law which requires the processing of children from Central American countries. The New York Times offers a summary explanation, and a bit of the current political sniping about it.  Want to get into the text of the law?  Signed as one of the last acts of the Bush Administration on December 23, 2008, it can be found at the State Department website, and going to Congress.gov will yield information on the original bill, H.R. 7311, in the 110th Congress.  If you want just the text of the law, and no Congressional bells and whistles, search for PL 110-457, and a readable text is available from the Government Printing Office.

There is nothing simple about this issue — no single piece of legislation, nor one bullet point presentation is going to provide a quick and easy answer.  For example, the current situation with unaccompanied children isn’t an enforcement issue — the people who show up at the border stations are turning themselves in.  Nor did the issue begin this month — for all the alarmist tendencies in the press; it’s been going on since last October.   Allegations that the “cause” can be distilled down to rumors offering Central Americans hope for their children have to be tempered with information about the conditions in Central American countries which might in some cases have been part of a family’s decision to send children away from home.

Further complicating the situation is that as the children are being processed individual cases present very individual sets of circumstances — as many as 58% may be eligible for refugee status.   This figure must also be tempered.  As of 2012 only 536 immigrants from Guatemala were granted asylum, 222 were categorized as “defensive asylees,” along with 191 in the same category from El Salvador. [DHS pdf] Further, the refugee ceiling for 2012 was set at 5,500 for Central American and the Caribbean. [DHS pdf]

And, Americans should use every crisis to improve the level of their geographical information, it’s usually wars that teach us where things are.   The Department of State has summary profiles of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.  We have a bureau for that too, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.  The State Department also compiles an annual “Trafficking in Persons” report, and editions from 2001 to 2014 are available online.

Getting beyond the basic data, the situation becomes more complicated when we add the State Department’s Travel Warning issued last April 25th concerning El Salvador, which while not dire, isn’t exactly tuned to boost El Salvador on the Bucket List of places to see:

“A majority of serious crimes are never solved; only 6 of the 31 murders committed against U.S. citizens since January 2010 have resulted in convictions.  The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter violent crime.  El Salvador’s current criminal conviction rate is five percent.  While several of the PNC’s investigative units have shown great promise, routine street-level patrol techniques, anti-gang, and crime suppression efforts are limited.  Equipment shortages (particularly radios, vehicles, and fuel) further limit their ability to deter or respond to crimes effectively.”

El Salvador isn’t alone, on June 24, 2014 the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Honduras too.

“Since 2010, Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world. The Honduran Ministry of Security recorded a homicide rate of 75.6 per 100,000 people in 2013, while the National Violence Observatory, an academic research institution based out of Honduras’ National Public University, reports that the 2013 murder rate was 79 murders per 100,000 people.”

and this:

“Members of the Honduran National Police have been known to engage in criminal activity, including murder and car theft. The government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and police often lack vehicles or fuel to respond to calls for assistance. In practice, this means police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime, or may not respond at all. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras. The Honduran government is still in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions.”

And, this is putting it diplomatically?

This is by absolutely no means an exhaustive list of what can be found in online sources. However, here’s hoping that the recommended reading and links can help mitigate the wasteland of information that is on offer from the networks.  This is a start. It is only a start.

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