MIGRANT CHILDREN IN THE US: THE BIGGER PICTURE EXPLAINED11:34 27.06.2019
There has been an outcry over reports of «severely neglected» children being detained at a migrant centre, and several migrant deaths near the US’s southern border.
Lawyers who visited a border patrol facility in Clint, Texas, have described overcrowded cells, with children locked up without adult supervision or sufficient access to food or showers.
Separately, a legal argument from the government that access to soap and a toothbrush were not necessarily «required» for child migrants in detention has drawn much criticism.
The border authority has said it is trying to provide the «best care possible», but that it «urgently» needs additional funding.
How did we get here, and why is this happening now?
Why are there migrant children in custody?
By law, migrant children are not supposed to be held in customs and border patrol facilities for more than 72 hours.
Within that period, they should be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, where they are placed in shelters, or housed with relatives or guardians.
However, rights groups say many children are staying in border patrol custody for much longer.
Border officials have told US media they are dealing with overcrowding and inadequate resources.
«We completely agree with some of the reporting that’s gone out in that [unaccompanied children] should not be held in our custody,» one official told US media.
«We do not want them in our custody, our facilities are not built for that.»
US border patrol says 11,507 unaccompanied children, and 84,542 people travelling with relatives, were stopped at the border in May — a sharp increase from previous months.
Why have children been separated from their parents?
Not all of them have — some entered the US unaccompanied. However, others have been taken from parents or guardians.
In early 2018, President Donald Trump announced a «zero tolerance» policy to prosecute all adults who try to cross the US-Mexico border illegally, including those who planned to seek asylum in the US.
Because migrant children could not be put in custody with their parents, they were separated from their families.
As a result, more than 2,300 children were removed at the border between 5 May and 9 June 2018.
The policy — which the administration initially defended as necessary to deter illegal immigration — sparked outrage in the US and internationally.
On 20 June 2018, Mr Trump signed an executive order seeking to end the separations. A judge then ordered that the families be reunited.
However, more than 100 children were still taken from their parents or guardians after the court order — and the process of reuniting families has been criticised as slow and chaotic.
The New York Times has reported that 700 families had been separated in the past year via «loopholes» in the court order — when parents have a criminal conviction or a disease, or when it is an aunt, uncle, or sibling accompanying the child. Some parents may themselves be under 18 — and also detained.
Why are people fleeing to the US?
The recent surge in migrants entering the US from the southern border are from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Many say they are fleeing extreme poverty, or insecurity and gang violence.
Research suggests many migrate due to a combination of factors.
A UN survey of one migrant caravan in October found that 80% said they were seeking a better quality of life, 46% said they were escaping insecurity and violence, and 3% said they were moving to be reunited with their family.
Another UN survey in January of migrants that had fled Honduras and El Salvador, and were hoping to enter Mexico or the US, found 68% moved for better labour opportunities, and 12% moved for education opportunities.
However, 68% also said they had had to change homes due to incidents related to violence or insecurity.
How serious is poverty in Central America?
These countries are among the poorest in the world while the US is one of the richest, with the world’s largest economy (by GDP).
According to the World Bank, close to 60% of people in Honduras live in poverty, and in rural areas, about one in five people live on less than $1.90 (£1.50) per day.
About 59% of people in Guatemala live in poverty, while in El Salvador the proportion is 31%.
President Trump has repeatedly condemned economic migrants, saying two months after he launched his candidacy that «they’re taking our manufacturing jobs, they’re taking our money.» However, many studies say that immigration produces net gains for the US economy.
Those entering the US for a better quality of life are not considered refugees.
However, US and international law currently say that people can seek asylum if they fear persecution at home on the basis of their race, political opinion, nationality, religion or because they belong to a particular social group.
How serious is violence in Central America?
Many rights groups have highlighted the growing risk of violence in these countries.
The UN refugee agency says that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have all «experienced a dramatic escalation in organised crime by gangs» that have turned parts of the countries into «some of the most dangerous places on earth».
According to UN figures, El Salvador and Honduras have the two highest homicide rates in the world, while another report found they also had the highest rates of female homicides worldwide (Guatemala came fourth).
Rights groups cite the influence of armed gangs who act with impunity — as well as the targeting of women and LGBTI people — as key factors for the high homicide rates.
Among the most prevalent groups is MS-13, a brutal street gang that started in the US but is now thought to have at least 60,000 members in Central America.
One migrant from El Salvador, Maritza Flores, told the BBC last year: «We’re not criminals — we’re people living in fear in our countries. All we want is a place where our children can run free — where they’re not afraid to go out to the shops.»
People seeking asylum in the US can request a «credible fear» interview if returning home would put their life at risk. An asylum officer then tries to establish if their request is based on a fear of persecution, and if they meet the criteria.
In recent years, the highest number of credible fear applications came from citizens of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Department for Homeland Security figures show that the vast majority of claims were deemed to be justified.
However, the border agency says the number of credible fear claims increased by 67% between 2017 and 2018 — placing a strain on resources.
Mr Trump has been keen to raise the threshold for what counts as «credible fear».
In 2017, the attorney-general at the time, Jeff Sessions, said the credible fear system had been exploited.
A year later, he issued a ruling that said victims of domestic abuse and gang violence should no longer generally qualify for asylum in the US — although this was eventually struck down by a judge.
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What’s behind President Trump’s position?
Mr Trump has focused closely on immigration since becoming president, and backed proposals to cut the number of legal immigrants to the US by 50% over the next 10 years.
By cracking down on immigration, he is playing to his base, his core supporters.
A Washington Post — ABC News poll in April found that 63% of Republicans said they were more likely to support Mr Trump for re-election given his handling of illegal immigration.
However, the same poll found that his approach was less popular with Americans overall — with 44% of adults saying his approach made them more likely to oppose him, compared to 31% who were supportive.