Advocates say migrant children should be considered refugees

Editor’s Note: President Obama has asked Congress for millions of dollars to implement an “aggressive deterrence strategy focused on the removal and repatriation of recent border crossers,” meaning the thousands of children who are fleeing violence in their home countries in Central America. Obama is also saying these children would not be eligible for his programs to defer deportations of young immigrants brought here as children or eligible to stay under a proposed immigration overhaul. In response to this cold-blooded move against these children, many of whom are being sheltered in Artesia, in southern New Mexico, La Jicarita is reprinting Kent Paterson’s article “Advocates say migrant children should be considered refugees,” courtesy of NewsPaperTree, based in El Paso, where it appeared on June 27.

By Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur

Central American migrants find quarter in southern Mexico. (Courtesy of Peter Haden)
Central American migrants find quarter in southern Mexico. (Courtesy of Peter Haden)

In the media barrage over the “flood” of Central American children arriving along the United States’ southern border, the refuge-seekers have been typically labeled as “illegal immigrants” by many media outlets.

Under the heading “Life for illegal immigrants at FLETC,” a story posted this week on New Mexico news source KOB re-played the dominant news frame as it reported on conditions at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, where hundreds of Central American children will be detained.

“It’s like an upscale hotel in there,” New Mexico state Representative Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Chaves) was quoted, adding that the children would be supplied with toys, television, “three square meals at day,” medical attention, and education.

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh questioned security at the southeastern New Mexico facility, noting that it boasted only a chain link fence with no barbed wire.

“It’s just not a real barrier to people who have come this far,” Kintigh said.

But Central American migrant advocates have a diametrically opposed take on the crisis, contending that the children on the U.S. border should be considered not as immigrants but refugees meriting international treatment standards, which does not generally include detaining children, according to Human Rights Watch.

In a lengthy statement issued this week, members of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement (MMM) demanded that a refugee crisis be declared, and that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees take the appropriate emergency measures. The MMM cited field evidence its collaborators have been documenting since the last trimester of 2013, when migrant advocates noticed a change in the urgency of Central Americans crossing Mexico en route to the United States.

By February, the crisis was boiling, as more and more unaccompanied minors and women with children younger than 12 years of age were undertaking the dangerous trek north, according to the MMM.

In another unusual development, larger groups of people from ethnic communities like the Garifunas of Central America’s Caribbean Coast have begun showing up along the migrant route, the group said.

According to the MMM, the “LA 72” migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco, which is located near Mexico’s southern border, housed 6,192 people from January 1 to May 31 of this year. Of the overall client roll, 1,000 were women with children and 800 unaccompanied minors.

MMM activist Ruben Figueroa reported that 70 percent of the migrants interviewed mentioned experiencing death threats, extortion or the death of at least one family at the hands of gangs or “narcos” back in their homeland.

“(Organized crime) charges for everything, for selling in the street, and it charges all businesses alike-big, medium or small,” the MMM stated. “Extortion is so generalized that it includes the charging of a fee to people who have family members in the U.S.”

Honduras, which has been rated as the country with the highest homicide rate in the world, stands out in the “ships of horrors,” as Central America scholar Dr. Dana Frank describes the order of things in some of the Central American nations.

In addition to crime, corruption and violence, politically-motivated repression against journalists, activists and opponents of the U.S.-backed government is rampant. An estimated 88 peasant activists have been murdered in the Lower Aguan Valley alone.

“We are facing a phenomenon of forced expulsion in which the actors don’t migrate for traditional reasons in search of better opportunities or family reunification,” the MMM asserted.

The migrant activists further contended that the refugee crisis was the product of a “lethal mix” of U.S. border security policies, militarization and “unsustainable economic models” that have dismantled governments and “pushed the governance of peoples to the limit.”

Building up over a long period, the spike in the number of Central Americans pushing northward is increasingly a regional issue involving numerous states and governments.

In Mexico City, about 100 people staged protests this week outside the consulates of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Amnesty International joined Father Alejandro Solalinde and other migrant advocates in criticizing a lack of support from Central American consular staff for their citizens passing through Mexican territory. The protesters also blasted Mexican detention practices which often hold migrants longer than the 15 days permitted by law.

“The Mexican authorities no longer have any excuse in ignoring the fundamental rights of migrants,” said Amnesty International activist Chasel Colorado.

Still, the appearance of child refugees on the U.S. border is not a uniquely North American issue. “We are seeing a growing number of minors on all routes,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. “We see them in the Mediterranean routes, through Mexico to the U.S…we see them everywhere.”

According to Guterres’ agency, more than 50 million people had been forcibly displaced in the world by the end of 2013.

Kent Paterson is the Editor of Frontera NorteSur (, a project of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.



  1. Hello,
    I have been sadly watching the events unfold on the Mexican/American border. It’s keeping me up at night worrying about all those children. My husband and I have been trained as special needs foster parents in WV. I also worked for years teaching special needs and kindergarten children. However, we now live in Gettysburg PA. I’m no longer working. My husband has worked for a phone company for over 20 yrs and now supports us in our ( 4 bedroom, well 5, but I converted one into my studio where I create ) home that’s becoming an empty nest. I’m wondering if there are any opportunities to foster/ sponsor refugees and children who are here and need a place to land and be safe, while in our country. Every child has the right to a safe, dependable and nurturing environment. They should never have to I’ve on emotional high alert out of fear. It drives me nuts, that there isn’t information out there to connect people who have room in their hearts and homes with children who need this so badly. It sounds like many are in prison situations. The young children who are alone must be terrified about whats to come. I also worry about the care of pregnant women. I am a DONA trained Doula and believe no pregnant mother should be living in the conditions we now have them in.
    I saw a woman on Anderson Cooper who was from Fla and is helping a bunch of these kids, but I don’t know who to get into contact with to find out how to do it.

    If there are any organizations, groups, or small pods of people who are helping the people get the hep they need, could you point me in their direction? Please Private Message me at


    Kerry Melton

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