A child hugs her mother at a Child Friendly Space (CFS) in Texas.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In recent months, there have been many news stories about the U.S.-Mexico border and the inhumane treatment of the families who traveled to the U.S. seeking protection and a better life. Much of it has been heartbreaking: tales of children taking care of infants and sleeping on the cold floors of detention centers, reports of children experiencing long-term effects of family separation, accounts of children crying without anyone to comfort them, and stories of children going without access to basic hygiene.
Throughout all of this, Save the Children and Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) have been working to ensure that children and families at the border are treated humanely, fairly and kindly.
We know the situation is very complicated and can seem confusing at times. That’s why we spoke with SCAN’s policy expert on the topic, Santiago Mueckay, and asked him 5 frequently asked questions about the situation at the border and the steps that Save the Children and SCAN are taking to help children. Santiago received a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School where he studied international and global affairs, particularly focusing on human rights and migration. Before joining SCAN, Santiago worked with Save the Children Germany researching the effect that migration policies had on children affected by the EU refugee crisis. He also recently returned from a trip to the border in New Mexico and Texas, where he met with Congressional staffers and community leaders to discuss the impact that current policies have on vulnerable populations seeking asylum and safety in the U.S.
Here are his responses.
SCAN: Why are people coming to the U.S.? And, from where?
Santiago Mueckay: The recent migrant crisis at the U.S. southern border has seen mostly Central American migrants and asylum seekers coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – an area often referred to as the Northern Triangle. However, there are also many migrants and asylum seekers coming from Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela and Central African nations like Cameroon, DRC and Angola.
The reasons why individuals and families migrate are often as diverse as the migrants themselves. Some come here seeking asylum from entrenched violence and persecution in their home countries, others seek to escape domestic abuse, deep-rooted poverty and food insecurity caused by droughts and climate change. However, the common thread among all of these stories is the promise of a better and safer future in the U.S. That is the reason why my family moved here 19 years ago and why we will continue to see people coming to the U.S.
SCAN: Roughly how many children are impacted by this crisis?
SM: We now have a better idea of the number of children who were separated during the administration’s zero-tolerance and family separation policy (around 5,500). It is estimated around 15,000 children have been affected by Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico”, which forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexican cities while they wait for their immigration hearings. Many of these children and their families are exposed to threats and violence including rape and kidnapping. We also have a decent idea of the number of children who were detained in detention centers this past year (close to 70,000).
However, these numbers only tell part of the story when children arrive at the border. The reporting at every step of the process – from their home countries, along their journeys, and up to when they are processed by immigration authorities – is certainly lacking. I am sure children who are negatively impacted by the crisis are not being fully represented in these counts. With so many of these children falling through the cracks of international and U.S. protection, we may never have an accurate count of all the children affected by the crisis. Until we address the root causes of the crisis (violence, poverty, corruption, climate change, etc.) we will not be able to fully help all of the children affected by it.
SCAN: What is SCAN/Save the Children doing about the crisis?
SM: Save the Children continues to identify and support local partners who are helping children and families at the U.S. border and provide child protection training to shelter workers and volunteers. Through partners, Save the Children is also distributing donations of essential care and comfort items – including diapers, hygiene supplies, children’s clothing, art supplies and coloring books, stuffed animals, backpacks, water bottles – to children and families in shelters. SCAN has generated more than 340,000 letters to the Trump administration and members of Congress speaking out against violations of children’s rights at the border. SCAN has also endorsed various pieces of legislation that would protect these vulnerable children. SCAN’s network of volunteers is gathering petition signatures at local events in support of legislation to demonstrate local support for ensuring migrant children are treated fairly and humanely.
SCAN: What surprised you the most during your trip?
SM: The hardest thing about my job is seeing the Trump administration implement so many inhumane immigration policies and reading so many stories about children and families on the edge of despair. Going to New Mexico and Texas and speaking with local organizations that are helping asylum seekers and migrants was a truly reinvigorating experience. These community leaders and countless volunteers embody important American values and it was amazing to see that those values are alive and well in these communities. I knew, of course, that there were many groups providing aid to those in need at the southern border, but speaking directly with them and seeing how caring and passionate they are was truly inspiring.
SCAN: How can we (advocates) help children and families at the border?
SM: There are many steps you can take to help children at the border:
- Sign up for our mailing list. SCAN will send you action alerts like this one so you can ask your representatives to support important legislation that would protect children at the U.S. southern border.
- Call your representatives. Let them know that you care about these issues and that they should too.
- Finally, if possible, donate! When you donate to SCAN, you help us ensure that more kids in the U.S. and around the world have the future they deserve.