A child rights advocate in Honduras says the United States should expect minors to continue to illegally cross into the country as long as American and Honduran political leaders remain focused on border security instead of addressing the root causes of migration.
More than 66,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed illegally into the United States this year from Central American countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Many of the children turn themselves in at the border in order to be placed into detention and, hopefully, reunited with family members living in the U.S.
The Obama administration is working to expedite the deportation of Central American minors apprehended at the border, in order to send the message to others that newcomers won’t be allowed to stay. The president has also delayed a promised reworking of his record-setting deportation policy.
But José Guadalupe Ruelas, director of the NGO Casa Alianza Honduras, told The Huffington Post that focusing on getting these young people out of the U.S. isn't the answer. “The question we have to ask ourselves is ‘why do the people leave?’” Ruelas said. “It’s never been as difficult, as expensive or as dangerous to emigrate [to the United States] as now. But as long as we don’t solve the problem of employment, of violence, of crime, people will continue to come.”
Ruelas, whose organization works with homeless and abused children in Central America, points to several statistics that illustrate the dire situation people in Honduras can face. Many children in the country don't attend school and can wind up as child laborers, he said. The average Honduran attends just 5.5 years in school, according to UNESCO data. Poverty and teen pregnancy are issues as well. According to UNICEF figures, 22.5 percent of Honduran women between the ages of 15 and 19 reported a pregnancy in 2010.
Honduras also has the world's highest homicide rate, according to a 2014 United Nations report. Ruelas said that while violence has been a constant problem in the country, more gangs and criminal groups are targeting children for recruitment in recent years. In 2013, according to figures from the Honduran Secretariat of Education, some 2,000 students left school over harassment from gangs, including death threats, in the city of San Pedro Sula alone.
House Republicans and other critics have said that the child migrant crisis isn't fueled by violence and poverty in Central America, but rather by U.S. policies like President Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which exempts migrants brought here as children from deportation. The policy, known as DACA, does not apply to people who arrived after June of 2007.
For Ruelas, the figures highlight the reasons why Americans should expect Hondurans to continue trying to migrate, regardless of the actions of U.S. political leaders.
“Honduras has already said ‘don’t go,’ the United States has already said ‘don’t come,’” Ruelas said, referring to public campaigns launched by both countries to discourage illegal immigration. “But people are still going.”
Like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala suffer from high poverty rates and gang violence.
The Los Angeles Times reported last month that at least five minors who had been recently deported from the United States were killed. The reports were based on an interview with a morgue director in the notoriously violent city of San Pedro Sula.