The Obama administration should stop deporting children. Unfortunately, it seems dead set on doing that.
On June 20, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met in Guatemala with senior officials from that country, as well as from El Salvador and Honduras. More than 20,000 children from these nations were apprehended on the border last year, twice as many as the year before. This year, the United States is projecting that 90,000 children from these countries will try to cross the border.
Biden notified the Central American leaders that the United States would detain and deport the children who are coming here for refuge from the violence they see every day.
Gangs in these countries are specifically targeting and recruiting young children. If they choose not to join, then they are often murdered. So children are trying to get to the United States any way they can. The Border Patrol apprehends most of them, and holds them in detention centres. Some have been temporarily released to family members before the immigration service processes them and deports them.
The Obama administration has announced that it is now going to stop releasing children to family members. Instead, it plans to build more detention centres and expel children more quickly.
This is not a humane response.
If they are deported, many of these children will be recruited to join the gangs. Others will be tortured or murdered or disappeared.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres earlier this year declared that a majority of the children emigrating from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras deserve protection under international treaties. "We must uphold the human rights of the child," he said.
But rather than offer these children temporary asylum, the Obama administration is locking them up and then sending them packing.
Biden was blunt during his Central American visit.
"Those who are pondering risking their lives to reach the United States should be aware of what awaits them," he said. "It will not be open arms. … We’re going to send the vast majority of you back." That is unacceptable. We need to designate most of these children as refugees and treat them with the compassion they deserve.
World Refugee Day was on June 20, but President Obama chose not to mention the Central American children who deserve such status.
He did acknowledge that "some refugees simply cannot return home because the risk of violence and persecution is too great." He needs to apply that reasoning to the tens of thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America. Then he needs to change his policy accordingly.
Let us not forget our humanity.
Randy Jurado Ertll is the author of the recent book Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project.