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Alone and Vulnerable: Unaccompanied Minors in the United States and Mexico

Authors:
  • Rice University's Baker III Institute for Public Policy

Abstract and Figures

This report provides an overview on unaccompanied minors arriving to Mexico and the United States and discusses the main reasons why these children and adolescents flee their home countries, their perilous journeys, the conditions of their detention, and the treatment they experience in detention centers—including alleged abuse, inhumane conditions, and denial of their basic rights. It also argues that both countries need a child-centric approach to better understand and address the needs of these minors to ensure their best interests and well-being.
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INTRODUCTION
Unaccompanied alien child (UAC)1 is a U.S.
legal term for a child who does not have
lawful immigration status in the United
States; is under the age of 18; and who
lacks an available parent or legal guardian
to provide care or physical custody.2
In Mexico, such children are known as
a Niña, Niño, o Adolescente Migrante
(NNA) No Accompañado.3 The increase in
unaccompanied minors in both countries
has garnered much attention in recent
years, but it is not a new phenomenon and is
part of a global trend.4 Lately, however, both
Mexico and the U.S. have come under severe
criticism for the detention and treatment of
these unaccompanied minors.
This report provides an overview on
unaccompanied minors arriving to Mexico
and the United States and discusses the
main reasons why these children and
adolescents flee their home countries,
their perilous journeys, the conditions of
their detention, and the treatment they
experience in detention centers—including
alleged abuse, inhumane conditions, and
denial of their basic rights. It also argues
that both countries need a child-centric
approach to better understand and address
the needs of these minors to ensure their
best interests and well-being.
UNACCOMPANIED CHILDREN:
A GROWING CRISIS IN THE
UNITED STATES
Prior to the 1980s, the U.S. response
to unaccompanied children was “ad
hoc and situation specific,” with the
country admitting approximately 33,000
unaccompanied children, mostly from
Europe, Asia, and Cuba, through 12
programs.5 In the 1980s, the majority
of unaccompanied children came to the
U.S. from Central America, where they
were fleeing civil conflict and widespread
violence.6 In the 1990s, Mexican
minors were the largest percentage of
unaccompanied children entering the
country. In the last decade, the majority
of unaccompanied minors have once
again been from Central America. Prior to
2003, the now-defunct Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS), under the
Department of Justice, was the agency
responsible for the custody and care of
unaccompanied minors. However, INS was
also the country’s primary immigration law
enforcement agency, prosecuting these
undocumented unaccompanied minors for
unlawful entry. These two responsibilities—
caregiver and prosecutor—were “two
irreconcilable and competing functions.”7
Consequently, data on unaccompanied
minors prior to March 2003 is “a virtual
black hole.”8 Allegations of mistreatment
As of fiscal year-to-
date 2018 (October 1,
2017-August 31, 2018),
45,704 unaccompanied
minors on the
Southwest border have
been apprehended.
Alone and Vulnerable:
Unaccompanied Minors in the
United States and Mexico
Pamela Lizette Cruz, Research Analyst, Mexico Center
Tony Payan, Ph.D., Françoise and Edward Djerejian Fellow for Mexico Studies, and
Director, Mexico Center
REPORT10.09.18
2
Families, a division of the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS).13 But
even after these administrative changes,
allegations continue in the present day that
the Flores Agreement has not been fully
implemented by HHS, with the stations and
facilities housing children failing to meet
“basic standards for hygiene, food, sleeping
conditions, and medical care.”14
Figure 1 shows the total overall
immigration apprehensions and total
unaccompanied minor apprehensions
in the U.S. from 2008 to 2017.15 Clearly,
overall immigration apprehensions have
been declining, and unaccompanied
minor apprehensions represent a very
small portion of overall immigration
apprehensions. The largest surge of
unaccompanied minors occurred in 2014,
with 68,631 minors apprehended. Then-
President Barack Obama referred to the
influx as an “urgent humanitarian situation
requiring a unified and coordinated federal
response,” and the administration moved
to increase enforcement; authorize a multi-
agency response by the departments of
Homeland Security, Defense, Justice, and
Health and Human Services and the U.S.
Agency for International Development; and
partner with Mexico and countries in Central
America to deter unauthorized migration.16
While this response led to a decrease in
the number of unaccompanied minors and
family units, apprehensions rose again in
2016 and 2017. As of fiscal year-to-date
2018 (October 1, 2017-August 31, 2018),
45,704 unaccompanied minors on the
Southwest border have been apprehended.17
MEXICO’S CHALLENGES WITH
UNACCOMPANIED MINORS FROM
CENTRAL AMERICA
In Mexico, several laws set the legal
framework for the country’s treatment of
NNAs: the National Migration Law of 2011;
the Law for Refugees, Complementary
Protection, and Political Asylum of 2011;
and the Law on the Rights of Boys, Girls,
and Adolescents of 2014, which led to the
creation of the National Comprehensive
Child Protection System in 2015.18 The
of unaccompanied minors in INS care
led to a series of lawsuits that resulted
in the Flores Agreement of 1997, which
set standards of care and treatment for
minors in INS detention.9 In addition,
several laws, regulations, court orders,
and policies were established to regulate
the care and custody of unaccompanied
minors, including the William Wilberforce
Trafficking Victims Protection
Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA);
Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond
to Sexual Abuse and Assault in Confinement
Facilities; Customs and Border Protection
National Standards on Transport, Escort,
Detention, and Search; and the Border
Patrol Policy on Hold Rooms and Short-
Term Custody.10 The Flores Agreement set
a “nationwide policy for the detention,
release, and treatment of minors in the
custody of INS,” including placing minors in
the least restrictive settings appropriate to
their age and needs, as opposed to jail-like
conditions, and stipulating that facilities
would provide access to drinking water,
food, toilets and sinks, medical assistance,
adequate temperature and ventilation,
contact with family members who were
arrested with the minor, and segregation
from unrelated adults.11 Yet criticism over
the agency’s compliance with the Flores
Agreement continued; in 2001, an Office
of Inspector General (OIG) report found
“deficiencies with the implementation
of policies and procedures developed in
response to Flores in INS districts, Border
Patrol sectors, and at headquarters,” and
stated that these problems could “lead to
potentially serious consequences affecting
the well-being of juveniles.”12
On March 1, 2003, through the
Homeland Security Act of 2002, INS
was dissolved and the newly created
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
assumed immigration responsibilities,
with functions under three agencies: U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Responsibility for the custody and care of
unaccompanied minors was then transferred
to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)
within the Administration for Children and
The overwhelming
majority of
unaccompanied
children apprehended
in Mexico or at the
U.S.-Mexico border
are from Guatemala,
Honduras, and
El Salvador—countries
consistently ranked
as some of the most
violent nations in
Latin America.
BAKER INSTITUTE REPORT // 10.09.18
3
United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF hailed
Mexico’s migration law and the refugee
law for including the best interest of the
child principle.19 Despite these welcomed
developments, various organizations
have found that Mexico’s enforcement
of migration and refugee laws does not
correspond to the reality of how migrants
are treated during their apprehension and
detention as well as the barriers they face
in terms of access to asylum and other
protections.20 Particularly worrisome is the
small number of minors seeking asylum in
Mexico. Figure 2 illustrates the number of
unaccompanied minors detained, returned
to their country of origin, and seeking
asylum.21 UNHCR found that agents at
Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM)
often fail to inform migrant children of their
right to seek asylum. As the Latin America
Working Group Education Fund states,
“access to asylum in Mexico is still the
exception rather than the rule as it should
be under law.”22 Unaccompanied minors are
often left to navigate a frustrating system
ALONE AND VULNERABLE: UNACCOMPANIED MINORS IN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO
alone with limited options because of their
lack of knowledge on laws, asylum, or other
protections that may benefit them.
Moreover, in July 2014, partly under
pressure from the United States to stem
the flow of undocumented immigrants,
the Mexican government announced the
creation of the Southern Border Program
(Plan Frontera Sur), with the purpose
of coordinating with Central American
countries to address common challenges
such as migration flows, respect for
human rights, security, and socioeconomic
development, and to move toward a
“modern, efficient, prosperous, and safe”
border.23 Under the initiative, Mexico
ramped up its enforcement efforts on its
southern border. This led to severe negative
consequences for migrants, such as forcing
them to seek different routes of entry and
increasing their vulnerability to extortion
from criminal entities or immigration and
police officials in Mexico.24 Since the start
of the Southern Border Program, Mexico
has deported more than half a million
Central Americans, even surpassing U.S.
SOURCES U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Migration Policy Institute
FIGURE 1  TOTAL U.S. UNDOCUMENTED APPREHENSIONS AND TOTAL UNACCOMPANIED MINOR
APPREHENSIONS 20082017
2013 2014 2015 20162008 20172009 2010 2011 2012
100,000
800,000
700,000
723,825
556,041
8,401 19,668 18,622 16,067 24,481 38,833
68,631 59,757
40,035 41,546
463,382
340,252 364,768
486,651
420,789
337,117
415,816
310,531
600,000
500,000
400,000
300,000
200,000
0
Total undocumented apprehensionsUnaccompanied minors
4
deportation figures in some years.25 This
has also led to worsening conditions for
minors. Apprehensions and deportations of
unaccompanied minors rose significantly
under the Southern Border Program; in 2014,
Mexico deported 77 out of every 100 minors,
compared to just three out of 100 for the
United States, according to the Migration
Policy Institute.26 The next section discusses
the various and complex factors on why
unaccompanied minors are fleeing their
countries of origin.
WHY MINORS MIGRATE ALONE
The plight of unaccompanied minors
begins in their countries of origin. The
overwhelming majority of unaccompanied
children apprehended in Mexico or at the
U.S.-Mexico border are from Guatemala,
Honduras, and El Salvador—countries
consistently ranked as some of the most
violent nations in Latin America. Figures
from 2017 indicate that El Salvador has
a murder rate of 60 per 100,000 people
(a drop from 81.2 per 100,000 in 2016),
followed by Honduras with 42.8 murders
per 100,000, and Guatemala with 26.1 per
100,000.27 Additionally, the three countries
are wracked by poverty, unemployment,
inequality, the presence of transnational
gangs and criminal organizations,
violence, impunity, structural weaknesses
in governance, and “few opportunities
available for growing youth populations.”28
Minors leave to flee these conditions.
Crime, insecurity, violence, and economic
concerns are among their top reasons for
migrating, followed by a lack of educational
opportunities, a desire to reunite with family
members who have already migrated, the
role of smuggling networks, perceptions
of U.S. immigration policy, and a lack of
youth services.29 This is despite the fact
that unaccompanied children are vulnerable
and their journey is often perilous, posing
risks such as sex trafficking, sexual violence,
abuse, kidnapping, extortion, and even
death.30 When or if they succeed in leaving
their countries of origin, apprehension,
detention, and mistreatment by immigration
officials have become yet further obstacles
for unaccompanied minors. The American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained more
than 30,000 pages of records related
to abuses and neglect of children in CBP
custody between 2009 and 2014, including
allegations of intimidation, harassment,
excessive force, physical and verbal abuse,
refusal of medical services, denial of food
and water, and improper deportation.31
Similar harsh conditions and abuses have
been reported in Mexico.32
MINORS CAUGHT BETWEEN MEXICO
AND THE UNITED STATES
On June 21, 2018, President Donald Trump
declared that “Mexico does nothing for us
at the border” during a Cabinet meeting
that addressed illegal immigration along
the southern U.S. border.33 That statement
is unequivocally false. Mexico has taken
strong border enforcement steps at its
own southern border, to the detriment of
migrants and undocumented minors’ rights.
According to the Migration Policy Institute,
Mexico’s border enforcement activities
contributed to the decrease in child arrivals
at the U.S. border. 34 Trump has failed
to acknowledge this. However, Mexico’s
collaboration with the U.S. on the detention
BAKER INSTITUTE REPORT // 10.09.18
SOURCE Migration Policy Unit, Mexican Secretariat of the Interior’s (Secretaría de Gobernación,
SEGOB); and Mexico’s Refugee Commission (COMAR)
FIGURE 2  UNACCOMPANIED MINORS DETAINED, RETURNED,
AND SEEKING ASYLUM IN MEXICO 20142017
0
5,000
10,000
10,943
8,343
20,368 19,790
17,557 17,318
7,326 7,103
15,000
20,000
25,000
78 142 242 259
2014 2015 2016 2017
Unaccompanied minors returned
Unaccompanied minors detained
Minors seeking asylum
Under a strained
U.S.-Mexico
relationship, the
U.S. could face a rise
in undocumented
immigrants at its
southern border.
5
undocumented youth and their alleged
gang affiliations. The vast majority of
unaccompanied minors and youth left
their countries to flee from gangs, their
forced recruitment tactics, and violence in
Central America, not because they are part
of such organizations. Research conducted
in El Salvador on child migrants deported
from Mexico found that 60 percent of the
children listed “crime, gang threats, and
insecurity as a reason for leaving.”39 While
it is true that gangs such Mara Salvatrucha,
also known as MS-13, are present in the
United States, they represent a very small
portion (estimated at 6,000-10,000
members) of the approximately 1.4 million
members of roughly 33,000 violent and
active gangs in the United States.40 Yet the
Trump administration consistently attempts
to link undocumented immigration with
crime (even though studies show that
immigrants commit fewer crimes than
native-born U.S. citizens) and gang ties
and affiliations.41 These allegations,
particularly in reference to unaccompanied
minors, taint the real issue: vulnerable
minors who are running from these gangs
and are in desperate need of protection.
Findings from a national survey of
immigration lawyers found that gang
affiliations among immigrants have been
increasing.42 Critics argue that the sources
and evidence for such allegations, such
as gang databases, are unreliable43; for
instance, they may include broad criteria
such as individuals seen dressing in certain
colors, living in certain neighborhoods,
or appearing in photographs with gang
members.44 However, on July 30, 2018,
U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee ruled that
the U.S. government cannot hold minors
in secure facilities solely on “reported
gang involvement.”45 This ruling is a step
forward in making sure that the Flores
Agreement is correctly implemented and
that immigration detention facilities serve
the best interests and well-being of these
unaccompanied minors.
Trump administration officials have
also alleged that gang members exploit the
unaccompanied minors program; Attorney
General Jeff Sessions stated on September
21, 2017, that MS-13 takes advantage of
and deportation of undocumented minors
may be about to change.
On July 1, 2018, voters in Mexico elected a
new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador
(AMLO), and it remains to be seen how
U.S.-Mexico relations will continue in key
areas, including migration. During Mexico’s
second presidential debate in Tijuana,
Mexico, candidates addressed questions
on undocumented migration, including
unaccompanied minors. López Obrador
stated that Mexico would not continue doing
the United States’ “dirty work” of stopping
Central Americans.35 On September 12, 2018,
The New York Times reported that the Trump
administration proposes to divert $20 million
in foreign assistance funds to Mexico in
order to assist in costs related to plane and
bus fare to deport up to 17,000 people who
are in the country illegally.36 In response to
the media coverage, the outgoing Enrique
Peña-Nieto government issued a statement
saying that Mexico would evaluate the
proposal and would continue cooperating
with the United States on migration issues.37
However, according to The Guardian, the
incoming López Obrador administration has
reportedly rejected the U.S. offer to help fund
deportations, stating that the offer “has not
been put on the table in any way.”38
Thus, under a strained U.S.-Mexico
relationship, the U.S. could face a rise in
undocumented immigrants at its southern
border. That would certainly not help
detained minors, whose numbers could
rise quickly, which could spur further
deterioration of their detention conditions.
For a strong collaborative relationship,
the U.S. needs to view Mexico and Central
American countries as essential partners in
efforts to create best practices and solutions
to any future surges in undocumented
migration. Minors should be an important
part of those discussions, but under less
acerbic rhetoric.
CONFLATING ISSUES AND
RHETORICAL DISTRACTIONS
Indeed, a particularly worrisome issue to
be addressed is the Trump administration’s
anti-immigrant rhetoric, particularly on
ALONE AND VULNERABLE: UNACCOMPANIED MINORS IN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO
For a strong
collaborative
relationship, the
U.S. needs to view
Mexico and Central
American countries as
essential partners in
efforts to create best
practices and solutions
to any future surges
in undocumented
migration.
6
BAKER INSTITUTE REPORT // 10.09.18
the program to replenish its ranks, for
instance.46 Yet it is important to note that
there are no official statistics on the number
of unaccompanied minors involved with
gangs.47 Thus, the administration is relying
on anecdotal evidence, which may not
be representative of the entire population
of unaccompanied minors. The Office of
Refugee Resettlement suggested that
only a small proportion of unaccompanied
minors are affiliated with gangs, based on
a June 9, 2017, review indicating that only
35 out of 138 UACs in detention facilities
were voluntarily involved with gangs. In the
context of the nearly 2,400 unaccompanied
minors in ORR custody on that date, ORR
stated “this means that gang members were
approximately 1.6% of all UAC in care.”48
Utilizing this kind of rhetoric distracts
from the need for policies for managing
unaccompanied minors that ensure the best
interests of the child.
CONCLUSION
Unaccompanied minors represent an
increasing number of migrants journeying
to Mexico and the United States. It is clear
that their needs are different than those
of adult undocumented migrants. Their
detention and safekeeping requires a policy
with specific principles, such as focusing
on the best interests of the child, as well
as specific actions to ensure that they are
kept safe and have access to counseling,
education, and humane treatment while in
government custody. Their physical well-
being and mental health should be a priority
for all agencies and governments involved in
their apprehension and detention, and they
should be provided with proper information
and legal counsel when placed in the
judicial system. The immigration system—or
deterrence mechanisms, such as policies
to separate children from their parents—
cannot put at risk the safety of children
who end up in the government’s custody.
If these minors are to be sent back to their
home countries, great care should be taken
to ensure that they are returned to their
rightful parents or guardians under the best
possible conditions.
Finally, and broadly speaking, the issue of
unaccompanied minors should be addressed
jointly by Mexico and the United States, with
standardized procedures in both countries
and actions directed at mitigating the reasons
why these unaccompanied minors are
fleeing their countries. Antagonistic rhetoric
from the United States toward Mexico,
and the potential new position Mexico
may take under the next administration in
response to that rhetoric, can only worsen
the future of a whole generation of children
and adolescents—who may be physically
and psychologically scarred from negative
migration and detention experiences, perhaps
to the point that they become a regional
problem once they reach adulthood—rather
than provide meaningful solutions for an
already suffering population.
ENDNOTES
1. There are different terms that are
often used interchangeably as well, such
as: unaccompanied minors, unaccompanied
alien minor, unaccompanied migrants,
child migrant, migrant children, separated
minors, juvenile asylum seekers, refugee
children, unaccompanied immigrant
children, unaccompanied juveniles, and
asylum children seekers. See Lilian Chavez
and Cecilia Menjívar, “Children without
Borders: A Mapping of the Literature on
Unaccompanied Migrant Children to the
United States,” Migraciones Internacionales
5, no. 3 (2010): 71-111; and Amanda
Levinson, Unaccompanied Immigrant
Children: A Growing Phenomenon with Few
Easy Solutions (Washington, D.C.: Migration
Policy Institute, January 24, 2011), http://
bit.ly/2zRmfkO.
2. 6 U.S. Code § 279(g)(2), See http://
bit.ly/2O5HfNp.
3. Defined as a national or foreign boy,
girl, or adolescent younger than 18 years
old who is found to be in national territory
and is not accompanied by a blood relative
or a person who has legal representation.
See Ley de Migración, Article 3, XVIII,
http://bit.ly/2DXlDyk.
4. Chavez and Menjívar, “Children
without Borders,” 73-74.
If these minors are to
be sent back to their
home countries, great
care should be taken
to ensure that they are
returned to their rightful
parents or guardians
under the best
conditions possible.
7
ALONE AND VULNERABLE: UNACCOMPANIED MINORS IN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO
5. Daniel J. Steinbock, “The Admission
of Unaccompanied Children into the United
States,” Yale Law & Policy Review 7, Issue
1, Article 5 (1989): 140-142. http://bit.
ly/2E6HGCS.
6. Olga Byrne, Unaccompanied Children
in the United States: A Literature Review
(New York: Vera Institute of Justice, April
2008), 9, http://bit.ly/2yb2YcQ.
7. Wendy Young, Prison Guard or
Parent: INS Treatment of Unaccompanied
Refugee Children (New York: Women’s
Commission for Refugee Women and
Children, May 2002), 2, http://bit.
ly/2IBiqTA.
8. Jacqueline Bhabha and Susan
Schmidt, Seeking Asylum Alone:
Unaccompanied and Separated Children
and Refugee Protection in the U.S.
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Committee on Human Rights Studies,
2006), 187, http://bit.ly/2xYuQ40.
9. William A. Kandel, “Unaccompanied
Alien Children: An Overview,” Congressional
Research Service Report No. R43599,
January 18, 2017, http://bit.ly/2zRYyZz;
Lazaro Zamora, “Unaccompanied Alien
Children: A Primer,” Bipartisan Policy
Center (blog), July 21, 2014, http://bit.
ly/2O2nZ3z.
10. U.S. Senate Committee on the
Judiciary: Hearing on The MS-13 Problem:
Investigating Gang Membership, its
Nexus to Illegal Immigration, and Federal
Efforts to End the Threat, June 21, 2017,
Washington, D.C. (statement of Carla
Provost, acting chief of U.S. Border Patrol).
11. Flores v. Reno Stipulated Settlement
Agreement, http://bit.ly/2yhvwkq.
12. Kandel, “Unaccompanied Alien
Children: An Overview,” 4; Office of
the Inspector General, Unaccompanied
Juveniles in INS Custody, Report no.
I-2001-009 (Washington, D.C.: Office of
the Inspector General, U.S. Department of
Justice, 2001), http://bit.ly/2O2H4CG.
13. Administration for Children and
Families, “Factsheet: Unaccompanied Alien
Children Program,” June 15, 2018. http://
bit.ly/2O6UbTa.
14. Angelina Chapin, “Drinking Toilet
Water, Widespread Abuse: Report Details
‘Torture’ For Child Detainees,” Huffington
Post, July 17, 2018, http://bit.ly/2NluZTV;
See also Jenny Lisette Flores, et al. vs.
Jefferson B. Sessions, Attorney General of
the United States, Case 2:85-cv-04544-
DMG-AGR Document 459-4 Filed
07/16/18, http://bit.ly/2Rp3cVT; Michael
Garcia Bochenek, In the Freezer: Abusive
Conditions for Women and Children in
U.S. Immigration Holding Cells (New York:
Human Rights Watch, 2018), http://bit.
ly/2xYDq2C; International Human Rights
Clinic at the University of Chicago School
of Law and American Civil Liberties Union
Border Litigation Project, Neglect and Abuse
of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children by
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (San
Diego: ACLU Border Litigation Project, and
Chicago: International Human Rights Clinic,
University of Chicago, May 2018), http://
bit.ly/2IBVFyR.
15. See United States Border Patrol,
“Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions By
Month - FY 2000-FY 2017,” http://bit.
ly/2y0BK8P; United States Border Patrol,
“Total Unaccompanied Alien Children (0-17
Years Old) Apprehensions By Month - FY
2010,” http://bit.ly/2P5XTci; and Marc R.
Rosenblum, Unaccompanied Child Migration
to the United States: The Tension between
Protection and Prevention, (Washington,
D.C.: Migration Policy Institute, 2015), 4,
http://bit.ly/2RqnBd9.
16. The White House Office of the Press
Secretary, “The Obama Administration’s
Government-Wide Response to Influx
of Central American Migrants at the
Southwest Border,” August 1, 2014, http://
bit.ly/2P65mYS; The White House Office
of the Press Secretary, “Presidential
Memorandum–Response to the Influx of
Unaccompanied Alien Children Across the
Southwest Border,” June 2, 2014, http://bit.
ly/2QtrZXo.
17. United States Border Patrol,
“Southwest Border Apprehensions by
Sector FY2018,” http://bit.ly/2yezav7.
8
18. Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas,
Strengthening Mexico’s Protection of
Central American Unaccompanied Minors
in Transit, (Washington, D.C.: Migration
Policy Institute, 2017), 8, http://bit.
ly/2OGIXnU. For more information on
Mexico’s international and national legal
framework and its regulations on the
comprehensive protection of boys, girls,
and adolescents, see Programa Nacional de
Protección de Niñas, Niños y Adolescentes
2016-2018 (PRONAPINNA), 19-22, http://
bit.ly/2RrFMze.
19. UNHCR, “UNHCR welcomes new
refugee law in Mexico,” January 28, 2011,
http://bit.ly/2y0Emnj; UNICEF, Examples
of positive developments for the rights
of children in the context of international
migration (New York: UNICEF, Committee
on the Rights of the Child, 2012), https://
uni.cf/2IEsYBs. For more information on
the “best interest of a child” principle,
see United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees, UNHCR Guidelines on Determining
the Best Interests of the Child (Geneva:
UNHCR, 2008), http://bit.ly/2O70cPK.
20. Amnesty International, Overlooked,
Under-Protected: Mexico’s Deadly
Refoulement of Central Americans Seeking
Asylum (London: Amnesty International,
2018), http://bit.ly/2zRYF7y; Francisca
Vigaud-Walsh, Eric Schwartz, and Gabriela
Dehesa-Azuara, Putting Lives at Risk:
Protection Failures Affecting Honduras
and Salvadorans Deported from the United
States and Mexico (Washington, D.C.:
Refugees International, 2018), http://bit.
ly/2PbPwvR; Amnesty International, No
Safe Place: Salvadorans, Guatemalans and
Hondurans seeking asylum in Mexico based
on their sexual orientation and/or gender
identity (London: Amnesty International,
2017), http://bit.ly/2DVl2Nu; Eleanor Acer
and B. Shaw Drake, Dangerous Territory:
Mexico Still not Safe for Refugees (New York
and Washington, D.C.: Human Rights First,
2017), http://bit.ly/2DXtc7X; and Human
Rights Watch, Closed Doors: Mexico’s
Failure to Protect Central American Refugee
and Migrant Children (New York: Human
Rights Watch, March 2016), http://bit.
ly/2IBXBaI.
21. Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a
Refugiados, “Estadísticas,” http://bit.
ly/2E67w9I; Unidad de Política Migratoria,
“Boletines Estadísticos,” 2014-2017, http://
bit.ly/2NnW9JG.
22. Human Rights Watch, Closed
Doors, 48; Daniella Burgi-Palomino and
Emma Buckhout, “Does my story matter?”
Seeking Asylum at Mexico’s Southern
Border (Washington, D.C.: Latin America
Working Group Education Fund, 2017), 2,
http://bit.ly/2IENG4e.
23. See Luis A. Arriola Vega, Mexico’s
Not-So Comprehensive Southern Border
Plan, Issue brief no. 08.05.16, Rice
University’s Baker Institute for Public
Policy, Houston, Texas, http://bit.
ly/2QuHzCd; Secretaría de Gobernación-
Coordinación para la Atención Integral de la
Migración en la Frontera Sur, “Informe de
Actividades, julio 2014-julio 2015,” Mexico,
3-4.
24. Tony Payan, The Three U.S.-México
Border Wars, 2nd edition, (West Port, CT:
Praeger Security International, 2016), 97.
25. James Fredrick, “Mexico Deploys
A Formidable Deportation Force Near Its
Own Southern Border,” NPR, May 7, 2018,
https://n.pr/2OGIOBe.
26. Rodrigo Dominguez Villegas and
Victoria Rietig, Migrants Deported from the
United States and Mexico to the Northern
Triangle: A Statistical and Socioeconomic
Profile, (Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy
Institute, 2015), http://bit.ly/2PbMpUP.
27. Tristan Clavel, “InSight Crime’s
2017 Homicide Round-Up,” InSight Crime,
January 19, 2018, http://bit.ly/2zS4t0J.
28. Peter J. Meyer and Clare Ribando
Seelke, Central America Regional Security
Initiative: Background and Policy Issues
for Congress, R41731 (Washington, D.C.:
Congressional Research Service, 2015),
http://bit.ly/2Nn8EFq.
29. Human Rights Watch, Closed Doors,
16; Marc R. Rosenblum, Unaccompanied
Child Migration to the United States, 10-11;
United States Government Accountability
Office (GAO), Central America: Information
on Migration of Unaccompanied Children
from El Salvador, Guatemala, and
Honduras, GAO-15-362 (Washington, D.C.:
GAO, 2015), http://bit.ly/2Nn8EFq.
BAKER INSTITUTE REPORT // 10.09.18
9
ALONE AND VULNERABLE: UNACCOMPANIED MINORS IN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO
30. UNICEF Child Alert, “Broken Dreams:
Central American children’s dangerous
journey to the United States,” August 2016,
http://bit.ly/2PaTx3I.
31. International Human Rights Clinic
at the University of Chicago School of Law
and ACLU Border Litigation Project, Neglect
and Abuse of Unaccompanied Immigrant
Children by U.S. Customs and Border
Protection, 2.
32. Consejo Ciudadano del Instituto
Nacional de Migración, “Personas en
detención migratoria en México: Misión
de Monitoreo de Estaciones Migratorias
y Estancias Provisionales del Instituto
Nacional de Migración,” July 2017, http://
bit.ly/2PaU9q2; Human Rights Watch,
Closed Doors.
33. White House, “Remarks by
President Trump at Cabinet Meeting,” June
21, 2018, http://bit.ly/2OA307x.
34. Rodrigo Dominguez Villegas and
Victoria Rietig, Migrants Deported from the
United States and Mexico to the Northern
Triangle, 9.
35. “Segundo Debate Presidencial
#Elecciones2018,” INETV, streamed live
on May 20, 2018, 1:22:35, http://bit.
ly/2Rr4S18.
36. Gardiner Harris and Julie Hirschfeld
Davis, “U.S. Plans to Pay Mexico to Deport
Unauthorized Immigrants There,” The New
York Times, September 12, 2018, https://
nyti.ms/2y2hEeg.
37. Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores,
“El gobierno de México continuará
con la cooperación en materia de
migración que se tiene con el gobierno
de EUA,” September 13, 2018, http://bit.
ly/2ydVODW.
38. David Agren, “Incoming Mexican
government rejects U.S. offer to fund
deportations,” The Guardian, September 14,
2018, http://bit.ly/2O2U4bs.
39. American Immigration Council, A
Guide to Children Arriving at the Border:
Laws, Policies, and Responses (Washington,
D.C.: June 2015, 2, http://bit.ly/2y2i7gw.
40. J. Weston Phippen, “What Trump
Doesn't Understand About MS-13,” The
Atlantic, June 26, 2018, http://bit.ly/2NlG1Zl;
Federal Bureau of Investigation, “The MS-13
Threat: A National Assessment,” January 1,
2008, http://bit.ly/2y0P2SB; Terry Frieden,
“FBI report: Gang Membership spikes,” CNN,
October 21, 2011, https://cnn.it/2y3si4x.
41. Christopher Ingraham, “Two charts
demolish the notion that immigrants come
here illegaly to commit more crime,”
Washington Post, June 19, 2018, https://
wapo.st/2OATDVc; Tal Kopan, “MS-13 is
Trump's public enemy No.1, but should
it be?” CNN, April 29, 2017, https://cnn.
it/2PfGiyU.
42. Laila L. Hlass and Rachel Prandini,
Deportation by Any Means Necessary:
How Immigration Officials are Labeling
Immigrant Youth as Gang Members (San
Francisco: Immigrant Legal Resource
Center, 2018), http://bit.ly/2RrKlJS.
43. Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Gerald
Porter Jr., “Gang Databases Are the Latest
Controversial Policing Tool,” The Wall
Street Journal, July 26, 2018, https://
on.wsj.com/2zRAS7J; Jeff Asher, “Gang
Stats Aren’t Remotely Reliable, But Voters
Keep Hearing About Them Anyway,”
FiveThirtyEight, November 3, 2017,
https://53eig.ht/2RrKtsQ; James B. Jacobs,
“Gang Databases: Context and Questions,”
Criminology & Public Policy 8, no. 4 (2009),
http://bit.ly/2NhLoZz.
44. Immigrant Legal Resource Center,
“Testimony for the Record Immigrant
Legal Resource Center Senate Judiciary
Hearing ‘The MS-13 Problem: Investigating
Gang Membership, its Nexus to Illegal
Immigration, and Federal Efforts to End
the Threat,’” June 21, 2017, http://bit.
ly/2O2VcMe.
45. Richard Gonzalez, “Federal Judge
Orders Government To Seek Consent Before
Medicating Migrant Children,” NPR, July 30,
2018, https://n.pr/2PaIyY4.
46. U.S. Department of Justice,
“Attorney General Sessions Gives
Remarks to Federal Law Enforcement
in Boston About Transnational Criminal
Organizations,” Sept. 21, 2017, http://bit.
ly/2NloVe4.
10
47. Department of Homeland Security,
“Unaccompanied Alien Children and Family
Units Are Flooding the Border Because of
Catch and Release Loopholes,” February 15,
2018, http://bit.ly/2OEkXBU.
48. Department of Health and Human
Services, Administration for Children and
Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement,
“Information Memo: Community Safety
Initiative for the Unaccompanied Alien
Children Program,” August 16, 2017, http://
bit.ly/2QsKxqN.
AUTHORS
Pamela Lizette Cruz is the research analyst
for the Baker Institute Mexico Center.
She works with the director and affiliated
scholars to carry out research on Mexico’s
policy issues and U.S.-Mexico relations.
Her current project focuses on binational
institutional development on the U.S.-
Mexico border.
Tony Payan, Ph.D., is the Françoise and
Edward Djerejian Fellow for Mexico Studies
and director of the Mexico Center at the
Baker Institute. Payan’s research focuses
primarily on border studies, particularly
the U.S.-Mexico border. His work includes
studies of border governance, border flows
and immigration, as well as border security
and organized crime.
See more Baker Institute Reports at:
www.bakerinstitute.org/baker-reports
This publication was written by a
researcher (or researchers) who
participated in a Baker Institute project.
Wherever feasible, this research is
reviewed by outside experts before it is
released. However, the views expressed
herein are those of the individual
author(s), and do not necessarily
represent the views of Rice University’s
Baker Institute for Public Policy.
© 2018 Rice University’s Baker Institute
for Public Policy
This material may be quoted or
reproduced without prior permission,
provided appropriate credit is given to
the author and Rice University’s Baker
Institute for Public Policy.
Cite as:
Cruz, Pamela L., and Tony Payan. 2018.
Alone and Vulnerable: Unaccompanied
Minors in the United States and
Mexico. Baker Institute Report no.
10.09.18. Rice University’s Baker
Institute for Public Policy,
Houston, Texas.
BAKER INSTITUTE REPORT // 10.09.18
... Más allá de la vulneración de los derechos de la niñez migrante centroamericana, tanto en Estados Unidos como en México, alrededor de 60 por ciento de esta población lo constituyen los denominados menores no acompañados, de entre 12 y 17 años de edad. Esto da como resultado una alta gama de desafíos para ambos países en materia de condiciones de detención, trato en centros de aseguramiento y respeto de sus derechos básicos (Cruz y Payán, 2018). Por otro lado, los niños y niñas acompañados, es decir, quienes viajan en compañía de sus familiares, constituyen 40 por ciento de esta población. ...
... Se espera que los hallazgos de este trabajo aporten a los estudios sobre la niñez migrante centroamericana en tránsito por México y hacia Estados Unidos (Porras Gómez, 2017;Cruz y Payán, 2018;Galli, 2018), y que contribuyan a abrir debates en torno a la agencia de la niñez en general (Abebe, 2019) y de la niñez migrante centroamericana en particular (Thompson, Torres, Swanson, Blue y Hernández Hernández, 2017). Como se ha mostrado, los menores migrantes son agentes sociales importantes en los movimientos migratorios contemporáneos, tales como son las caravanas, que además despliegan capacidades de rememoración, denuncia y crítica de procesos o eventos que los han situado como testigos o víctimas de la violencia social. ...
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En este artículo se explora la construcción de políticas de la memoria de niñas y niños que viajaron con sus familiares en una caravana de migrantes centroamericanos. Teóricamente, se plantea que la memoria no solo tiene una función cognitiva, sino también política, al rememorar y cuestionar los procesos sociales en los que se produce y significa. Metodológicamente, se utilizan y analizan de forma temática y dialógica narrativas orales y visuales de dos niñas y de cuatro niños de Honduras y Guatemala que arribaron a la frontera de Tamaulipas en febrero de 2019. Se argumenta que las políticas de la memoria de las niñas y niños se orientan a la enunciación de la violencia en sus países de origen, la resistencia a la vulneración vivida durante el tránsito migratorio y a la denuncia de políticas migratorias estadounidenses. Finalmente, se concluye que los hallazgos del estudio contribuyen a los debates sobre agencia de la niñez migrante y sobre su relevancia como agentes sociales dentro de las caravanas centroamericanas.
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Among the scholars working on problems of today's children is Jacqueline Bhabha, an expert in international law, migration, and children's rights, who, with Susan Schmidt, has just completed a study comparing the (often harrowing) experiences in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, of children who, increasingly, find themselves applying for asylum alone. This study has growing significance in the post 9/11 world as developed countries erect higher and higher barriers in the way of asylum seekers and as asylum seekers increasingly include children traveling on their own.-M.S.
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Daniel J. Steinbock, "The Admission of Unaccompanied Children into the United States," Yale Law & Policy Review 7, Issue 1, Article 5 (1989): 140-142. http://bit. ly/2E6HGCS.
Prison Guard or Parent: INS Treatment of Unaccompanied Refugee Children
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Wendy Young, Prison Guard or Parent: INS Treatment of Unaccompanied Refugee Children (New York: Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, May 2002), 2, http://bit. ly/2IBiqTA.
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William A. Kandel, "Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview," Congressional Research Service Report No. R43599, January 18, 2017, http://bit.ly/2zRYyZz;
Unaccompanied Alien Children: A Primer
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Lazaro Zamora, "Unaccompanied Alien Children: A Primer," Bipartisan Policy Center (blog), July 21, 2014, http://bit. ly/2O2nZ3z.
Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview
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Flores v. Reno Stipulated Settlement Agreement, http://bit.ly/2yhvwkq. 12. Kandel, "Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview," 4; Office of the Inspector General, Unaccompanied Juveniles in INS Custody, Report no.
Drinking Toilet Water, Widespread Abuse: Report Details 'Torture' For Child Detainees
  • Angelina Chapin
Angelina Chapin, "Drinking Toilet Water, Widespread Abuse: Report Details 'Torture' For Child Detainees," Huffington Post, July 17, 2018, http://bit.ly/2NluZTV;
Attorney General of the United States
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Jefferson B. Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, Case 2:85-cv-04544DMG-AGR Document 459-4 Filed 07/16/18, http://bit.ly/2Rp3cVT;
International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law and American Civil Liberties Union Border Litigation Project, Neglect and Abuse of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • Michael Garcia Bochenek
Michael Garcia Bochenek, In the Freezer: Abusive Conditions for Women and Children in U.S. Immigration Holding Cells (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2018), http://bit. ly/2xYDq2C; International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law and American Civil Liberties Union Border Litigation Project, Neglect and Abuse of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (San Diego: ACLU Border Litigation Project, and Chicago: International Human Rights Clinic, University of Chicago, May 2018), http:// bit.ly/2IBVFyR. 15. See United States Border Patrol, "Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions By Month-FY 2000-FY 2017," http://bit. ly/2y0BK8P; United States Border Patrol, "Total Unaccompanied Alien Children (0-17