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Column 043007 Thompson

Monday, April 30, 2007

Mexican Children are Migrating Alone to the USA

By Barnard R. Thompson

A heartrending and worrisome story, regardless as to which side of the U.S.-Mexico border one resides — or jingoism if not bigotry people in one nation or the other express towards one another, was published in the Mexico City newspaper El Financiero on April 26.

In a piece titled “Migration to the United States is taking on a child’s face,” journalist Roxana González García describes a poignant situation as told to her during an interview with Karla Gallo, a consultant with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund.

The following is an edited translation of what Gallo had to say.

“Today the phenomenon of migration to the United States has a new face, invisible to authorities, one of thousands of children, boys and girls, who long for the American dream and leave their communities alone in order to seek a better way of life, or to be reunited with their parents who have already gone to the ‘other side.’

“According to Gallo, a reality is that undocumented child migration along Mexico’s northern border causes the systematic violation of children’s human rights insofar as the United States does not have centers for under-aged detainees, who continue to be repatriated at risky hours and separated from their families during the transfers.

“Meanwhile, in Mexico the trend to criminalize migrant children is increasing.  ‘They are branded as maras [gang members], delinquents, prostitute street children who assault or steal, and there is a growing tendency to penalize them for emigrating, putting then under arrest or behind bars.’

“According to data from DIF [National System for Integral Family Development] and private shelters, where the young [deportees] detained by the U.S. Border Patrol are taken, last year more than 20,000 children, 2,000 more than in 2005 and almost twice as many as in 2004, traveled on their own to the border in order to cross illegally into the United States, which represents 15 percent of the total registered migration movement.

“Already this year the number of those [in shelters] who are waiting to be sent back to their places of origin — often times alone, or picked up by a relative, has risen by 2,000.

“Of those, 80 percent are between the ages of 13 and 17, mostly males who traveled alone, whereas 13 percent are boys and girls between the ages of six and 12, who also traveled unaccompanied.  Four percent are under five years of age, who traveled with a family member or older sibling.

“This new child’s face, that migration has developed, is attributed mainly to the stiffening of immigration policies in the United States, that have characteristically separated families, [leaving] children far from their parents on both sides of the border.

“Workplace raids against undocumented persons have intensified this situation, as now there are hundreds of underage U.S. citizens, who are the children of illegal migrants, who are left behind in the care of relatives or institutions because their parents were deported.

“This phenomenon, that was practically nonexistent a decade ago, causes concern in international organizations such as UNICEF that warn migrant children have become commodities for the illegal enrichment of people smugglers; sexual exploitation, prostitution and pornography networks; and even for authorities who extort them.

“More and more children are used by people smugglers as guides for the undocumented [in crossing] the desert or the Rio Grande, or by narcotics traffickers to transport drugs into the United States.

“Furthermore, according to Gallo, in most cases there is no effective verification that the children are actually handed over to their families.  Nor is there follow-up during the time they are returning to their places of origin.

“Although there are binational mechanisms guaranteeing safe repatriation, Gallo noted that children are practically invisible, as well as excluded by Mexican and U.S. authorities, insofar as they are absent in most studies on migration, and from migration policies where they are not even taken into account.

“‘This is a phenomenon that stays hidden, absent but as real as migration itself,’ Gallo concluded.”

According to Mexico’s DIF, today an average of 32 underage boys and girls try to cross into the United States on a daily basis.  Over the past five years, the DIF reports caring for 50,000 so-called “fronterizos,” or border children.  In the second half of 2006, the agency attended to 15,584 children in its 24 shelters in the northern border states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, and in Chiapas on the southern border with Guatemala, the Apro news service reports.

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Barnard Thompson, editor of MexiData.info, has spent nearly 50 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing multinational clients with actionable intelligence; country and political risk reporting and analysis; and business, lobbying, and problem resolution services.  He can be reached via e-mail at mexidata@ix.netcom.com.