Human Rights Watch has chronicled violent drivers of the continuing child migration crisis, as well as how the US government has stealthily outsourced to Mexico the job of returning these kids to their often perilous homes.
The report titled “Closed Doors: Mexico’s Failure to Protect Central American Refugee and Migrant Children” (pdf) was based on 61 interviews with “refugees, asylum seekers, or migrants” between the ages of 11 and 17; more than 100 adults from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala; as well as 65 interviews with officials and workers with governmental and non-governmental organizations who work on these issues.
The children told Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers harrowing stories of flight from street gangs in the Northern Triangle region.
“I was in school, in the ninth grade,” one child migrant told HRW. “One day the gang came up to me near the school where I was studying. They told me that I needed to join the gang. They gave me three days. If I didn’t join them, they’d kill me.”
The child said he left before the gang-imposed deadline.
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Nearly half the children told HRW they were fleeing the violence or street gangs, the report says, something which coincides with research by InSight Crime.
The report's main conclusion is that the Mexican government is not following its own or international laws on how to deal with what are effectively refugees. Instead of processing them as asylum cases, the kids are routinely misinformed or not informed about their rights, placed in detention centers and then returned to their countries of origin.
“Our research found wide discrepancies between Mexico’s law and the way it is enforced,” the report says.
InSight Crime Analysis
There are two separate but related conclusions worth highlighting in this report.
First, the child migrant crisis is not over, it has simply shifted south. Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración - INM) detained 36,000 migrant children during 2015, according to the report, just over half of whom were unaccompanied.
“In combination, Mexican and US authorities apprehended almost 75,000 children from Central America’s Northern Triangle in calendar year 2014 and 68,000 in calendar year 2015, figures that include accompanied as well as unaccompanied children,” the report says, citing US Customs Border Protection statistics.
The findings suggest that, despite their disappearance from US news cycles, Central American children continue to be driven northward by extreme violence in their neighborhoods.
The invisibility in the US of this ongoing crisis is related to the second important conclusion: the United States has purposely shifted the task of dealing with these children to Mexican authorities, a responsibility that the Mexican government has willingly taken on.
The report notes that INM detentions of migrant children increased by 275 percent between 2013 and 2015.
The shift in responsibility comes as the US begins considering how to spend a $750 million aid package for the Northern Triangle, which is, in part, designed to slow the flow of migrants north.
The question is whether Mexico's increased role in detaining children, and the political stress associated with it, will steer resources away from those who need it most.