Unaccompanied Mexican migrant children are not receiving the government protections from human trafficking, and exploitation that they should, according to a report released today by the nonprofit Appleseed and its network of public justice centers.
At least 15,000 unaccompanied children are apprehended every year by U.S. border agents. In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed a law called the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act, mandating that every Mexican child who crossed illegally without a parent be interview by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. The agents were tasked with looking for three things: 1) The child is not a potential victim of trafficking, 2) Has no possible claim to asylum and 3) Can and does voluntarily agree to return home.
The two-year study finds, however, that border agents are not fulfilling these duties. And it describes in detail how children at the U.S.-Mexico border are being sent back to Mexico with little regard for their well being or whether they have a credible asylum claim in the United States.
I came to the same conclusion back in November with my story Children of the Exodus. Last summer I spent two weeks in Reynosa and Matamoros interviewing teenagers in government run shelters. The teens had been apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents and sent back to Mexico. As soon as they arrived in Mexico they would contact another smuggler and try to cross again into the United States. The repatriation process between the United States and Mexico is merely window dressing that doesn’t address the economic or family reasons that force children to cross the border illegally risking their lives. Crossing also exposes them to exploitation from organized crime and the drug cartels.
The Appleseed study called Children at the Border makes many fine policy recommendations for both the U.S. and Mexican governments that could save many children’s lives and significantly reduce the number of children who are being exploited, raped or killed on the U.S.-Mexico border. “We owe these kids not only a moral duty but also a legal duty that Congress recognized in 2008 that we can’t just keep spinning the revolving door sending children back to Mexico,” says David Nachman, one of the lawyers who worked on the study. “But what we’ve found is that the law is not being implemented or followed and the revolving door is still spinning away.”
In the coming weeks, Nachman said Appleseed will be meeting with government officials in both countries to lobby them to implement some of their recommendations such as transferring the interviews from Customs and Border Protection to Citizenship and Immigration Services and creating a national database of all detained unaccompanied minors.