Injustice for Potential Refugees reaching the Mexican-American Border

My heart goes out to the thousands of minors and families coming to the U.S. from Central America in search of safer livelihoods. My parents escaped the turmoil and violence of El Salvador during the horrific Civil War in the 1980s. Today, they comment that the violence in El Salvador with the influx of MS-13 gang members deported from the U.S., parallels the violence of the Civil War. The lot of thousands of Central American minors must receive humanitarian justice as they seek relief.

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According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, homicide rates have increased throughout Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala–also known as Central America’s Northern Triangle. In Honduras alone there are up to 90% homicides for every 100,000 people . These people are immigrating to escape violence that threatens their livelihoods. This is truly a humanitarian crisis.

In addition, the U.S. fails to implement basic protections of minor children, especially as the due process and screening of minors from Northern Triangle countries is being expedited under the recent immigration bill HR. 5230–passed August 1. The bill authorized $694 million to be invested in further militarizing the Mexican-American border and expediting the process of removing minors, rather than providing humanitarian aid. Previously, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 guaranteed that all minors from non-contiguous countries, including El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala had to be screened as potential victims of human trafficking; however, the HR.5230 bill eliminates this right.

Children sleeping in a holding cell in a U.S. Customs & Border facility; Brownsville Texas, 2014; Copyright The Associated Press

An immigration judge has 72 hours to decide whether a minor is eligible for relief with Asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile status, a U-visa or T-visa. There is no discussion about consultations with child welfare experts, or the creation of “safe return plans” when a minor is returned to their home country. The “burden of proof” clause imposes responsibility on minors to prove that they are victims of human trafficking, or potential refugees eligible for relief. These minors may be experiencing physical and emotional turmoil, after their harsh journey to the U.S., and may not be fully aware of their rights, or eligibility criteria for the special visas.

Additionally, the conditions that these minors are being held in detention centers and army bases are unknown. These minors should be in minimal detainment as a child welfare standard. In a 2008 study “A Child Alone and Without Papers,”  33 interviews with Honduran and Mexican minors highlight the injustice and maltreatment minors experienced by the US immigration authorities (see references):

  1. inattention to repeated requests for medical attention
  2. no access to water while at the Border Patrol Station
  3. sleeping on floors without blankets in heavily air conditioned cells
  4. not being given any or enough food
  5. not being allowed to contact family
  6. being struck and knocked down by agents
  7. being handcuffed
  8. being transported “like dogs,” in kennel like compartments

Minors, no matter their country-of-origin, must not be criminalized and placed under these harsh conditions. The recent immigration bill does not address the humanitarian issue, and puts the safety of thousands of people at risk as their eligibility for asylum, or special visas may be overlooked under the expedited process.

In the photography project “The Other Side of the American Dream,” Nicola “Okin” Friolin provides a powerful voice for Central American people immigrating to the U.S.

Copyright Nicola "Okin" Frioli" 2014
Copyright Nicola “Okin” Frioli” 2014

Wendy fled from Honduras with her three children (Jared 18 months, Jazmin of 3 years, and Eduardo of 8) because of the attempted murder she suffered by her husband, a member of the Mara Salvatrucha 18, one of two of the largest gangs in Central America. The complaint filed against her husband for domestic and sexual violence towards her and their three children had no solution in Honduras due to corruption. – Tapachula, Chiapas 2014

This is just one account, but there are many others that can inform us about the humanitarian crisis and enlighten perspectives on why the current immigration bill is unjust towards people seeking refuge and asylum. I am shocked at how racism and discrimination prevails throughout the 21st century, even towards the most vulnerable populations that seek nothing but safe livelihoods in the U.S.


Ruddick-Sunstein, E. (2014) ‘The other side of the American Dream:’ Powerful portraits document the abuse of migrants passing through Mexico. Feature Shoot.

Thompson, A. (2008). A child alone and without papers. Austin: Center for Public Policy Priorities.

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