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Unaccompanied Border Children Often Survivors of Sexual Violence and Gang Threats

First Posted: Jul 19, 2014 08:52 AM EDT
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The White House said Friday the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras will meet with President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joseph Biden next Friday to discuss the surge of children on the U.S. border children.

Amnesty International and We Belong Together held a late afternoon rally on Thursday outside The White House to urge President Obama to protect the rights of unaccompanied children, fleeing organized crime, gang violence and insecurity.

"The U.S. government should not compound the suffering of these children by rushing to remove them from the country. Its response to this crisis has to be comprehensive," said Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "The United States should take steps to ensure that the rights of these children are respected in accordance with its obligations under international law."

Amnesty International claims there has been nearly a ten-fold increase over the past three years of children crossing the border, with 52,000 children crossing in the past nine months. They are escaping high levels of organized crime and gang-related violence in Central American countries.

Many of the children they say are young girls — survivors of sexual violence who are at risk of kidnapping, trafficking and human rights abuses should they be returned.

Children and women have been arriving from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

President Obama has now requested that Congress provide more than $2 billion in funding to control the surge of unaccompanied children at the border and the power to expedite deportations. On July 14 a charter flight from New Mexico to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, according to Amnesty International, transported 12 Honduran girls and nine boys between the ages of 18 months and 15 years, as well as 17 women.

Amnesty International and We Belong Together argue children fleeing organized crime and gang violence should not be pawns in the political debate about immigration reform.

"Forty percent of the unaccompanied minors crossing the border are girls, and tens of thousands are women and children. We must release these children and families from immigration detention and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.  The efforts to send these children and women back to face violence and death is simply inhumane."

In a Council on Hemispheric Affairs article on an El Salvadoran public education campaign to curtain child emigration, Guest Scholar, Bowie University philosophy professor Frederick Mills said, "[F]our to five hundred children leave El Salvador every day. [T]hose excluded from the privileges of the middle and upper classes, are more likely to be trapped in barrios afflicted by gang violence, ride buses that are frequently subject to assaults, avoid crossing territorial boundaries, are submitted to occasional strip searches by the local gang checking for rival gang tattoos, undergo severe pressure to join gangs, and go to schools where in the worst cases even the teachers must pay 'rent.' They have a higher probability of being added to the body count."

According to the New York Times, elected officials on the city and state levels, led by the New York City Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs, have created a task force in response to arrival of Central American children. They met on Thursday.

The Times says federal officials have sent over 3,200 children to the city and other parts of the state to be reunited with relatives or to live with guardians. Citing immigrants' advocates, it says about 7,000 more are expected in coming months.

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