WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
11 Mar 2015 | Commentary | News

New U.S. Program Fails to Protect Detained Mexican Migrant Kids

The Washington Post has published an investigative piece on a new Border Patrol program that holds Mexican migrant children “for months without charge in shelters across the United States, sometimes without their parents’ knowledge.” Most of these children are repeat crossers, coopted or forcibly recruited by dangerous Mexican cartels and smuggling organizations.

WOLA’s concern, as mentioned in the article, is that the program fails to protect the kids they interrogate. By questioning the kids about criminal networks and then returning them back to Mexico, they may face retribution from cartels and smugglers. According to the article:

“While in custody last year, one Mexican boy who worked as a guide shared information with American authorities about the location of stash houses used by migrants as they move through the United States….When he returned to Mexico, he learned that armed men had forced their way into his home and killed a relative’s son. The men told the family that there had been raids on cartel hideouts and arrests and that they believed the boy was responsible.His half-brother was later killed by the same group. The boy, his lawyer said, has since been in hiding.”

To read the full Washington Post story click here.

There’s another important component to this article. As WOLA noted in a recent video report, all Mexican migrant kids detained at the border face obstacles to seeking protection in the U.S. from violence and trafficking at home.

Central American migrant children are automatically transferred to a system that allows them to be screened and tell their story to an immigration judge. Mexican children are denied this same level of screening. Unless Mexican children can prove to a Customs and Border Protection agent that they face a credible risk of being a victim of persecution or trafficking, they are sent straight back to Mexico. According to a 2014 report by the United Nations Refugee Agency, nearly 60 percent of unaccompanied Mexican minors mentioned violence as one reason for leaving home. But in 2013, less than five percent were referred to Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they are screened for protection concerns and are placed with a family member or sponsor while they await their immigration hearing.

In recent weeks, Congress started debating legislation that would make it even more difficult for migrant children to seek U.S. protection from trafficking and violence. Both the House and Senate are considering stripping protections for Central American and other migrant children, and putting them through the same process as the Mexican kids. But, as WOLA’s research and the Washington Post article shows, the current system for Mexican kids is failing. Instead, Congress should ensure that there is due process for all children arriving at the border.

This is especially important because child migration may increase again this summer. Based on WOLA’s projections, the L.A. Times reports that the number of unaccompanied children and families fleeing violence in Central America is still on track to exceed every year on record except for 2014.

For more information or to be put in touch with service providers who handle these cases, please contact Kristel Mucino at [email protected] or at 202-797-2171 or 617-584-1713.