2014 American immigration crisis

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Chart illustrating the number of people apprehended by the US Border Patrol on the United States-Mexican border who are, and are not Mexican nationals, 2000-2017. Non-Mexicans arriving on the border are overwhelmingly Central American nationals. SWBorderCrossing-NonMexicans-Chart.png
Chart illustrating the number of people apprehended by the US Border Patrol on the United States-Mexican border who are, and are not Mexican nationals, 2000-2017. Non-Mexicans arriving on the border are overwhelmingly Central American nationals.

The 2014 American immigration crisis was a surge in unaccompanied children and women from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) seeking entrance to the United States in 2014. According to U.S. law, an unaccompanied alien child refers to a person under 18 years of age, who has no lawful immigration status in the U.S., and who does not have a legal guardian to provide physical custody and care. [1] The surge increased rapidly, doubling in volume each year previously, [2] reaching extreme proportions that provoked a response from the U.S. government in 2014 when tens of thousands of women and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras migrated to the United States. [3] Many of the children had no parent/legal guardian available to provide care or physical custody and quickly overwhelmed local border patrols. [4]

Northern Triangle of Central America three-country region

The Northern Triangle of Central America refers to the three Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, especially in regard to their economic integration. They have signed trade agreements with Colombia, the United States, and Mexico. The agreement with Mexico began in 2001, later involved the Mesoamerica Project, and expanded to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2011.

El Salvador country in Central America

El Salvador, officially the Republic of El Salvador, is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. It is bordered on the northeast by Honduras, on the northwest by Guatemala, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. El Salvador's capital and largest city is San Salvador. As of 2016, the country had a population of approximately 6.34 million.

Guatemala Republic in Central America

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.


In 2015, the proportion of migrants from Guatemala had increased, while that of migrants from El Salvador and Honduras had decreased. [5] As of September 2017, the number of unaccompanied alien children apprehended at the U.S. border from the three countries of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) dropped from 2016, marking a change from the increase in apprehensions in 2016 from 2015. [6]


The Northern Triangle is composed of these three countries that had the most children leave in 2014: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador Central America's Northern Triangle (orthographic projection).png
The Northern Triangle is composed of these three countries that had the most children leave in 2014: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador
Central America's Northern Triangle or the Northern Triangle of Central America (Sp:Triangulo Norte De Centroamerica) is a region in Central America composed of three countries which are Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries share a trijunction tripoint border area and are charactrized with sharing similar original classical Central American culture, history, society and politics CentralAmerica'sNorthernTriangleTrianguloNorteDeCentroamerica.png
Central America's Northern Triangle or the Northern Triangle of Central America (Sp:Triangulo Norte De Centroamerica) is a region in Central America composed of three countries which are Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries share a trijunction tripoint border area and are charactrized with sharing similar original classical Central American culture, history, society and politics

From 1980 onwards, the number of immigrants from Central America arriving to the United States has grown substantially. However, most of the people fleeing Central America are those whose countries are plagued by corruption, poverty, and murder. The three countries from Central America with the highest numbers of migrants are Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Other immigrants from different countries in Central America have seen a moderate decrease from 2010 to 2013. [7] For example, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, and Belize have not had as many immigrants as the other three leading countries in the time frame. The three leading countries are the bulk immigrants coming to the United States. Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala make up 85 percent of those who arrive to the United States since the 1980s. [8] "In fiscal year (FY) 2016 alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intercepted nearly 46,900 unaccompanied children and more than 70,400 family units from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border." [7]

During the Cold War, the United States backed violent anti-Communist forces throughout Latin America. [9] [10] Academics claim that the violence and high murder rates in many of these countries is the direct legacy of the US intervention on behalf of these anti-Communist forces stretching back into the 1950s with the Guatemalan coup d'état, which has shaped the contemporary refugee crisis. [11]

Cold War Geopolitical tension after World War II between the Eastern and Western Bloc

The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. A common historiography of the conflict begins between 1946, the year U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan's "Long Telegram" from Moscow cemented a U.S. foreign policy of containment of Soviet expansionism threatening strategically vital regions, and the Truman Doctrine of 1947, and ending between the Revolutions of 1989, which ended communism in Eastern Europe as well as in other areas, and the 1991 collapse of the USSR, when nations of the Soviet Union abolished communism and restored their independence. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany and its allies, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.

1954 Guatemalan coup détat June 1954 coup détat in Guatemala

The 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, code-named Operation PBSUCCESS, was a covert operation carried out by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that deposed the democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz and ended the Guatemalan Revolution of 1944–1954. It installed the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas, the first in a series of U.S.-backed authoritarian rulers in Guatemala.

In 2014, the reason this crisis was internationally covered by media outlets, was due to the fact that most of the immigrants were children. Most of these children cross through the Guatemala-Mexico border. Most of these children also ride on a train called "La Bestia" because it can transport many people at once without charge. Immigrants from all over Central America rely on this train to take them north, hopeful to see the Mexican-American border. However, La Bestia has drawn international attention. This train and its routes are the epicenter of mass extortion, mutilation, murder, robberies, rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault of Central American immigrants. Immigrants do not report these crimes in fear of being deported back to their native countries. If these immigrant children managed to survive La Bestia and the cartels in Mexico, they now need to find "coyotes" to smuggle them across the highly guarded Mexican-American border. [12]

Guatemala–Mexico border international border

The Guatemala–Mexico border is the international border between Guatemala and Mexico. There is no continuous wall on the border, although there are sections of fence near populated areas and official border crossings. The border measures 871 km (541 mi) and runs between north and west Guatemala and the Mexican states of Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas. The border includes stretches of the Usumacinta River, the Salinas River, and the Suchiate River.

El tren de la muerte refers to a network of Mexican freight trains that are utilized by U.S.- bound migrants to more quickly traverse the length of Mexico, also known as La Bestia and El tren de los desconocidos. This mode of travel is extremely dangerous and illegal. It is estimated that yearly between 400,000 and 500,000 migrants, the majority of whom are of Central American origin, continue to ride atop these trains in the effort to reach the United States. The National Migration Service reports that of 64,061 foreign nationals that were detained in the year 2009, 60,383 were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Furthermore, according to the consul of El Salvador, Vilma Mendoza, "Around 30 percent of those who ride the trains are 'cyclical migrants'; men and women who attempt to return to the United States after deportation, or after a failed attempt". But most are escaping violence and poverty from their home countries. Other factors that have contributed to the mass exodus of Central Americans, according to Juan Pardinas, CEO of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, are "the precarious economic situation of their countries of origin, the consequences of civil and political-military conflict, as well as social and economic devastation caused by natural disasters, such as hurricanes". Although these trains are regarded as a free form of travel that allows migrants to avoid Mexico's numerous immigration checkpoints and 48 detention centers, the risks are high and many riders are left with life-altering injuries that limit their capacity to work.

Mexico–United States border international border between the two countries in North America

The Mexico–United States border is an international border separating Mexico and the United States, extending from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Gulf of Mexico in the east. The border traverses a variety of terrains, ranging from urban areas to deserts. The Mexico–United States border is the most frequently crossed border in the world, with approximately 350 million documented crossings annually.

Most women and children from Central America simply crossed the Rio Grande and turned themselves in to the United States Border Patrol, relying on the belief, partly well founded, [13] that United States immigration and refugee law made special provision for children. The large number of migrants entitled to hearings, counsel, and placement overwhelmed U.S. immigration courts and other government facilities.

Rio Grande River forming part of the US-Mexico border

The Rio Grande is one of the principal rivers in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. The Rio Grande begins in south-central Colorado in the United States and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it forms part of the Mexico–United States border. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, its total length was 1,896 miles (3,051 km) in the late 1980s, though course shifts occasionally result in length changes. Depending on how it is measured, the Rio Grande is either the fourth- or fifth-longest river system in North America.

United States Border Patrol

The United States Border Patrol (USBP) is an American federal law enforcement agency whose mission is to detect and prevent illegal aliens, terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, and prevent illegal trafficking of people and contraband. It is the mobile, uniformed law enforcement arm of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Executive Office for Immigration Review

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is an office of the United States Department of Justice and is responsible for adjudicating all immigration cases in the United States. EOIR oversees immigration courts in the United States through the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge. Additionally, the Board of Immigration Appeals, which hears appeals from immigration courts, is part of EOIR.


Immigrants jumping on "La Bestia" that will take them to the Mexican-American border. Mexico train surfing migrants 3.jpg
Immigrants jumping on "La Bestia" that will take them to the Mexican-American border.

The unaccompanied minors are leaving their homes for various reasons, but the main reason they're abandoning their families is due to the untamable violence that has plagued Central America for the last decade. Since the early 2000s, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have seen an exponential growth in their murder rates across the board. For reoccurring years, Honduras has been the murder capital of the world with a homicide rate reaching a 91.6 murders per 100,000 people in 2011. El Salvador also had a high rate in 2011 with a rate of 90 murders per 100,000 people. Guatemala's rate is not as staggering and has also shifted to a less violent country. However, El Salvador has seen another surge after 2013, when MS-13 and Barrio 18 broke a truce that propelled people to flee the country. In El Salvador, homicide rates peaked at 104 murders per 100,000 people in 2015. Recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees interviewed 404 children from Central America and Mexico, 58 percent say they are looking to evade violence in their native countries. However, in 2006, a similar survey took place where only 13 percent claimed to be fleeing violence. This immense increase in violence was a driving factor for this crisis. There was a 712 percent increase in asylum claims between 2008 and 2013 from immigrants in other places of Latin America as a result of this violence. [14] [15] [16]

For women, as crime increased in the last decade, sexual assault and rape have become a prevalent issue in the Northern Triangle as well. In 2014, 40 percent of the people fleeing were women compared to a low 27 percent in recent times. [17] The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women showed that in July 2014, the violent death of women in Honduras shot up at an alarming rate of 263.4 from 2005 to 2013, fueling the migration of women. In 2013, 95 percent of the cases for these women go unsolved and women leaving Honduras also face the same risks on their journey. [18]

Organized crime and drug-related violence in these countries have also increased danger for the people living in these areas. Since the 1980s, Colombian smugglers have used Central America, specifically, Honduras as a corridor to the United States. [19] Children in schools are forced to smuggle drugs as drug traffickers infiltrate schools. Drug trafficking has taken over these countries as waves of gangsters were deported from the United States in the 90s. Gangs like MS-13 have grown in size and power. Young children are the most vulnerable as gangsters will offer the choice of working for them or leaving. [20] The presence of Mexican cartels has been a feature of Illegal drug trade in Guatemala where law enforcement presence is sparse and there is plenty of open land where planes smuggling cocaine can easily land. [21] In the Northern Triangle(Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador), studies have shown that 19 out of 20 murders will not result in prosecution. [22]

In addition to violence and crime, food shortages and malnutrition continue to plague the region. It is estimated that half of Guatemalan children are chronically malnourished, resulting in stunted growth and eventually death. While these countries have some of the greatest potential for economic growth, inequality and general incompetency by the government has left these issues either under served or unaddressed completely. [23]


From the government

On July 9, 2014, a hearing on the crisis was held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Craig Fugate, the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, testified, "We are talking about large numbers of children, without their parents, who have arrived at our border—hungry, thirsty, exhausted, scared and vulnerable". [24] [25] Senator Dianne Feinstein compared the crisis to the American refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany aboard the MS St. Louis. [26] The President's request for additional funds was met in both houses of Congress by proposals to modify or eliminate the rights granted by the 2008 reauthorization of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. [27]

CBP Processing Unaccompanied Children on the South Texas Border in 2014 CBP Processing Unaccompanied Children (15020196668).jpg
CBP Processing Unaccompanied Children on the South Texas Border in 2014

As most unaccompanied children from Central America do not attempt to avoid capture but turn themselves into the Border Patrol after entering the United States, they usually cross the Rio Grande into Texas. The large number of children overwhelmed facilities in Texas in summer 2014 and some of the women and children were transferred to INS facilities in California. In most instances this occurred without incident, but in Murrieta, California, on July 1, 2014, buses carrying immigrants to a Border Patrol facility were blocked by flag-waving protesters. [28] On July 15, 2014, in Oracle, Arizona, pro and con demonstrators faced off regarding possible use of a local facility to house immigrant children. The location of the shelters being used is confidential, but a local law enforcement officer had informed the community of the planned use of the facility. [29]

The U.S. Department of Justice reported in June 2014 that it will provide around 100 lawyers and paralegals for the rising number of children coming to the United States without parents or relatives. Under this program, the federal government will issue $2 million in grants to compensate lawyers and paralegals representing unaccompanied children. [30] Attorney General Eric Holder stated, "We're taking a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society". The Obama administration estimated roughly 60,000 unaccompanied children would come across the border to the United States in 2014. [31]

On July 18, 2014, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick offered one of two locations to the federal government as temporary shelters for up to 1,000 children. One was Camp Edwards, in Bourne on Cape Cod; the other was Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. Governor Patrick explained, "Before a facility opens here, the Commonwealth will sign an MOU with the federal government to ensure that a municipality hosting the facility has input on the circumstances of being a host location." [32]

On July 23, 2014, Senator Barbara Mikulski introduced the bill Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2014 (S. 2648; 113th Congress), a bill that would appropriate supplemental funds for FY2014 to specified federal agencies and programs to respond to the increased apprehensions of unaccompanied children and minors along the southwestern border, fight wildfires, and support Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. [33] The bill would provide $2.7 billion in supplemental funding. [34] On July 28, 2014, President Barack Obama released a statement of administration policy in support of the bill, urging "Congress to act swiftly to pass the bill to allow a timely and effective response to these pressing needs." [35]

On July 29, 2014, Rep. Hal Rogers introduced the bill "Making supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2014 (H.R. 5230; 113th Congress)" (also known as the "Secure the Southwest Border Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2014" and the "Secure the Southwest Border Act of 2014") into the United States House of Representatives. [36] H.R. 5230 would provide supplemental FY2014 appropriations to several federal agencies for expenses related to the rise in unaccompanied alien children and alien adults accompanied by an alien minor at the southwest border. [36] The bill would also change the procedures for screening and processing unaccompanied alien children who arrive at the border from certain countries. [36] H.R. 5230 would provide $659 million in supplemental funding. [34] On July 30, 2014, President Barack Obama released a statement of administration policy stating that "his senior advisors would recommend he veto the bill" if it were presented to him for his signature. [37] The House was scheduled to vote on the bill on July 31, 2014, but the Republican leadership canceled the vote because it did not have enough votes to pass H.R. 5230 at that time. [34]

The Department of Health and Human Services had opened three temporary shelters for children at military bases in Texas, Oklahoma, and California, but the sites were closed in August 2014 as the flow of migrant children declined and the capacity of permanent centers to house children was expanded. [38] However, the new centers, such as the one in Artesia, New Mexico, may not offer facilities compatible with due process. [39] After a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU about conditions at Artesia conditions there showed marked improvement. [40]

In January 2014 the Department of Homeland Security sought a contractor to manage and transport approximately 65,000 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) "ages infant to 17 years of age". [41] The Department of Health and Human Services stated in its "Budget in Brief" that the expected annual number of arriving UAC had increased from 6,560 to an estimated 60,000 for fiscal year 2014, [42] and the Government anticipated awarding a five-year contract to deal with them.

In October 2014, immigrant rights groups filed Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") litigation to compel the release of documents regarding the use of the expedited removal process against families with children, including those detained at the family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. [43]

The provisions of H.R. 7311, William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, signed into law by George W. Bush give substantial rights [44] and protection to unaccompanied children from countries which do not have a common border with the United States. This made expeditious deportation of the large number of children from Central America difficult and expensive, prompting a call by President Barack Obama for an emergency appropriation of nearly $4 billion [45] and resulted in discussions on how to interpret or revise the 2008 law in order to expedite handling large numbers of unaccompanied children. [13]

In November 2017, the Trump administration ended the Central American Minors Program which allowed eligible minors from the Northern Triangle to apply for the refugee resettlement or parole in the United States, thereby limiting the flow of Central Americans to the United States. [46] [47]

U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America

While the U.S. had numerous domestic policies for dealing with the massive rise in immigration, on July 8, 2014 President Obama also requested funding for "the repatriation and reintegration of migrants to countries in Central America and to address the root causes of migration from these countries." This announcement was the start of a long term U.S. plan to address three "areas of action": security, governance, and prosperity. [48] Congress has so far granted $1.4 billion contingent on these Central American countries meeting security, corruption, and human rights requirements to receive assistance. When funding was first appropriated for these countries, funding was split fairly evenly between addressing economic and civil concerns and "rule of law" concerns regarding police and judicial institutions. So far none of these countries have met all of the legislative requirements to receive all of the funding allotted to them. [49]

In a statement made on the inauguration of Jimmy Morales as the President of Guatemala, the Obama administration addressed certain criteria that the Northern Triangle countries (Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala) would be expected to uphold in order to receive assistance from the United States. These criteria were: Combat corruption and strengthen public institutions, improve civilian jurisdiction and counter activities of criminal organizations, protect human rights, support programs to promote equitable growth, implement effective civil society consultations, and increase government revenues. These criteria have reflected long-standing obstacles for prosperity in these countries, particularly those relating to equality, human rights, and collecting government revenues needed to fund police. [50]

While funding for these efforts has been fairly consistent the past two years, the FY2018 budget proposed by President Trump would cut aid to these countries by roughly 30%. It is hard to know what the full implications of this cut to funding would be, but experts have claimed that it would most likely result in backsliding of any progress made in the governance of these countries. [49]

Detention centers

Unaccompanied minors held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Immigrant Children in Detention Centers 2012.jpg
Unaccompanied minors held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement

One cause of the influx of immigrants with children was word of mouth in Central America that families with children were not detained due to lack of facilities.[ citation needed ] Detention centers with facilities for families with children were built in Artesia, New Mexico, a temporary site that closed in December 2014; one in Dilley, Texas, that is managed by Corrections Corporation of America and located across 50 acres with a capacity of 2,400 migrants; Karnes City, Texas, with a capacity of 530 people; and a small facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The facility in Dilley includes barrack-style housing, a school, a medical clinic, and other facilities. However, migrants in the detention centers were refused bond in order to deter other migrants. In February 2015, a federal court, in a case under appeal, forbade use of deterrence of others as a consideration in refusing bond. Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security issued new regulations easing requirements for bonding out reducing the average stay in the facility to 22 days, and some detainees who have been detained 6 months or longer have been released. Johnson believes maintaining some capacity to detain families is necessary to maintain deterrence. [51]

From the public

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called for humane measures with respect to families and children fleeing violence in Central America and continued efforts to refine administrative policy with respect to the millions of undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States. [52]

A 2014 Mother Jones article suggested that many of the unaccompanied children were attempting to escape abusive situations. [53] Analysis of Border Patrol statistics by the Director of the Regional Security Policy Program at the Washington Office on Latin America shows a correlation between gang-related [54] killing of children in Central America, particularly San Pedro Sula in Honduras, and the surge in migration. [55]

According to the Immigrant Rights' Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR),(usually called the immigration courts), within the United States Department of Justice each have statutory responsibilities with respect to unaccompanied children from Central America.

The ACLU believes the stipulated settlement in Flores v. Meese, which is a United States District Court for the Central District of California decision which sets out a nationwide policy concerning federal detention of any minor, [56] also applies. [57]

From migrants' home countries

While acknowledging suggestions that immigration reform may have helped prompt the influx of child migrants, the Obama administration has also focused attention on measures to be taken by the migrants' home countries to try to stop the flow. In July 2014, President Obama met with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to seek their cooperation in reducing migration of children and expediting returns. In the summer of 2014, Mexico took actions to keep migrants from using freight trains ("La Bestia") to travel through Mexico. [58] [59] [60] As of February, 2015, the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the U.S. border, 12,509, during the previous 5 months had dropped while the number deported by Mexico to their home countries, 3,819, had risen by 56% year on year from the same period in fiscal year 2014. Conditions in Honduras had improved with a drop of about 20% in the homicide rate from 2012 to 2014. [5]

From migrants

Since the placement of restrictions on illegal immigration through policies pursued by the Trump administration, the movement of people from Central America to the United States has shifted to Mexico. The role of Mexico as a transit country between the Northern Triangle and the United States has transformed since the 2016 Presidential election with more people applying for asylum in Mexico than in the U.S. According to a Reuters report, "Mexican asylum data and testimony from migrants in Tenosique suggest that although fewer Central Americans are trying to enter the United States, plenty are still fleeing their poor, violent home countries, with many deciding to stay longer in Mexico, which has traditionally been a transit country." [61]


After the 2014 immigration crisis in America, the influx of immigrants from Central America to the United States continued but in lower proportions. Over the early 2010s America and Mexico presented consistent pushback to all immigrants from Central America. America and Mexico both also showed no immediate immigration policy changes even with the crisis. The United States and Mexico have militarized borders and dissuaded immigrants from making the journey as of 2014. [15]

However Central American families and children keep on coming to borders seeking asylum. In the aftermath, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) detainment of Central American people in the Mexican-American borders increased over 100 percent from late 2015 to early 2016 compared the year before. Also, United States government ordered for the deportation in 7,700 in 2014 to 2015 without court-hearings. However, there are 62,000 children still awaiting legal proceedings after 2014. In most cases, 94 percent of these children do not have attorneys to represent them in court. However, people from the Northern Triangle continue to immigrate despite the militarization of the CBP, increase in deportations, and the dangerous journey because their homes remain unsafe. [15]

Settlement in the United States

Grants of Asylum in the United States by country
CountryFY 2014FY2015FY2016
El Salvador1831,8601,404
Source: DHS, 2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 17.

During the 2011-2015 period, most migrants from Central America settled in California, followed by Texas and Florida. [62] According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, "In the 2011-15 period, the top four counties with Central American immigrants were Los Angeles County in California, Harris County in Texas, Miami-Dade County in Florida, and Prince George's County in Maryland", which comprise approximately 30% percent of the total Central American immigrant population in the United States for this period. [63] According to U.S. Census data from 2010, out of the top 10 cities where Guatemalan Americans reside in the United States, three cities fall in California: Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont, and Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario. Salvadoran Americans in the United States were in the highest concentrations in Los Angeles, Houston and New York in 2010, with 7 out of the top 25 cities with Salvadoran Americans falling in California. In 2011, Honduran Americans in the United States were populated in the highest proportions in Florida, Texas, and New York. [64]

After arriving in the United States, these migrants fall into the legal category of undocumented aliens, which puts them at the risk of deportation. [65] Deportation to their home country poses further problems for Central Americans, as the NCTA countries are not prepared to deal with their return due to inadequacies in the physical and political infrastructure. [66]


Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) provides free legal aid to unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings across the U.S. KIND was founded in October 2008 by Angelina Jolie in a collaboration with the Microsoft Corporation and 25 leading U.S. law firms. [67]

In addition to smaller organizations focused on assisting Central Americans in the United States, broader international organizations such as UNICEF, International Rescue Committee, Amnesty International also provide advocacy and support for Central Americans migrating to the U.S. [68] [69]

Other issues

Scamming of relatives

On July 23, 2013, The New York Times reported that con artists had fraudulently obtained confidential information about child immigrants held at military bases in Oklahoma and Texas and had been contacting the children's parents asking for money to facilitate release of the children and reunification with their family. No money is actually required. The matter was reported to be under investigation by the FBI. [70]

Trafficking and abuse of migrant children resettled by federal officials

In July 2015, a federal indictment revealed a forced-labor ring operating on an egg farm near Marion, Ohio, in which teenagers from Guatemala were being lured with promises of education and then forced to work 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. The teens lived in squalid trailers, were denied their paychecks and threatened with death if they sought help. [71] At least half a dozen of the teenagers found working on the farm had been in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is charged with the processing, treatment, and placement of unaccompanied migrant children pending the resolution of immigration proceedings. Government officials placed the teens with human traffickers who posed as relatives and friends. Concerns that the Ohio case was indicative of larger, systemic problems led to a Senate inquiry into how human traffickers successfully exploited the federal resettlement processes. [72]

The results of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations' probe were released on January 26, 2016. Led by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the committee found that preventable mistakes were made in the Ohio case. HHS officials failed to run background checks on the sponsors and any secondary caregivers in the households, site visits to the sponsors' homes were not conducted, and in one instance a sponsor was permitted to prevent a child-welfare case worker from visiting with one of the victims. [73] System-wide, the Senate inquiry found similar, serious gaps including weak processes for verifying relationships between children and sponsors, failure to perform background checks, lack of home visits and home studies, and the placement of children without meeting sponsors in person. Other key deficiencies in HHS policies and procedures were an inability to detect when a sponsor is seeking custody of multiple unrelated children and allowing sponsors to deny HHS from providing post-release services to children and barring contact between HHS care providers and the children.

Ultimately, the inquiry concluded that the policies for placing unaccompanied minors exposed them to a risk of trafficking and other abuse at the hands of government-approved sponsors. The Subcommittee identified more than 10 other cases of post-placement trafficking beyond the Ohio case and 15 additional cases with "serious trafficking indicators." [73] It is unclear how many other unaccompanied minors, placed by HHS, have been victims of trafficking or other abuses. HHS maintains no standardized mechanism of tracking trafficking or abuse cases. However, the findings of the Senate investigation echoed results of an independent investigation by the Associated Press (AP) in which the AP found more than two dozen children who had been placed with sponsors and subjected to sexual abuse, starvation, labor trafficking, or severe abuse and neglect. [74]

On January 25, 2016, the AP reported that in response to surges in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. in the past three years, government officials weakened safety standards related to the transfer of children from government shelters into sponsors' homes and the vetting of sponsors. Specifically, the government stopped fingerprinting most adults seeking to claim the children. In April 2014, the Office of Refugee Resettlement also stopped requiring original copies of birth certificates to prove the identity of most sponsors and later it decided not to complete forms that request sponsors' personal and identifying information before sending many of the children to sponsors' homes. [74]

Although the number of unaccompanied youth arriving from Central America declined significantly in 2015, with a 49% drop in the first 8 months of the year when compared to that same period in 2014, the number of young migrants is again on the rise. [75] HHS officials stated that they are strengthening their policies and procedures for placing children and have signed a contract to open more shelters; however, they remain under pressure from the Senate Subcommittee and advocates to both account for documented failings and address their causes. [74]

Refugees vs. immigrants terminology

In the discussion on the influx of Central Americans into the United States the terms "refugee" and "immigrant" have been used interchangeably or synonymously to represent Central Americans entering the country, despite the different legal ramifications of the two terms. The difference in the usage of these terms comes from the different perspectives on the factors motivating movement to the United States, with "push" factors being associated with the terminology of "refugee" and "pull" factors being associated with the terminology of "immigrant". According to Karen Musalo and Eunice Lee,

For those adopting the "push" factor outlook, the crisis is humanitarian one, reflecting human rights violations and deprivations in the region, and the protection needs of refugees (UNHCR 2015b; UNHCR 2014; Musalo et al. 2015) While acknowledging that reasons for migration may be mixed, this view recognizes the seriousness of regional refugee protection needs. For those focusing on "pull" factors, the crisis has its roots in border enforcement policies that were perceived as lax by potential migrants, and that thereby acted as an inducement to migration (Harding 2014; Navarette, Jr. 2014) [76]

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