Thrust to the epicenter of one of the most incandescent political battles in the United States today, unaccompanied migrant children are, evidently, an unequivocal symptom of the socio-economic and institutional breakdown in the poorest regions from which they come. Not only that, but their presence also highlights the types of societies they choose as their destination to survive, where they have not always found the refuge they hoped for.
But instead of making value judgments about the decision thousands of parents make–almost literally to the point of death–to send their children alone on a journey filled with twists and turns in search of a better location in geography, we should stop to take a look at the reality that these displacements represent and to those who it seems, unfortunately, no one has wanted to propose a humanitarian, permanent, or effective solution.
They—these migrant children that the media has converted now into “the news”—form part of an unstoppable human displacement over decades. Right now, together with other international migrants of different ages and origins, they represent 3.6% of the worldwide population, some 281 million human beings in search of a better future outside of their countries, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
These data are significant if compared to the figure in 1990, when there were 128 million international migrants, three times the number in 1970, according to IOM.
In addition, the more specific statistics regarding migrant children reveal an even more shocking reality, when it becomes known that the number of human beings 19 years old or younger who do not live in their nations of origin today, because of migration, is 40.9 million, compared with 29 million in 1990, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).
These young people 19 years old and younger represent 14.6% of the total migrant population, according to UNDESA, or 1.6% of all the children in the world.
But the phenomenon that, in recent years, really has alarmed and shocked us is the vulnerability in which these migrant children arrive at the border without their parents, guardians, or anyone to take care of them. Simply alone.
And the figures are changing: according to UNICEF, in 2015-2016 “there were five times more children migrating /alone than in 2010-2011” in the world. But specifically in the Mexico-U.S. border, the Border Patrol detained almost 70,000 unaccompanied children in 2014; in 2015, some 40,000, and 60,000 in 2016. Among all of those unaccompanied children in 2016, 61% were from El Salvador and Guatemala.
The terrible experience of unaccompanied minors during the previous administration speaks for itself when the policy of family separations at the border meant a major setback to thousands of children who were unable to see their parents for long and infinite months, and even today the matter of family reunification remains a live issue. In fact, the special task force that the current administration has charged with reunification recently discovered more than 5,600 files of children potentially separated from their parents.
The almost 19,000 children found this past March, 10,000 more than in February, are just a part of the more than 170,000 immigrants stopped at the borderline, the majority of whom are then deported from the United States, according to official figures. This despite the efforts of the current administration to provide shelter to migrant children, improvising installations to take care of them with humanity and respect.
There has not only been a notable increase in the human need to leave a country, determined to obtain a better standard of living in another, but what has also become clear, year after year and decade after decade, is that the root causes are always the same: lack of opportunities, low salaries, extreme violence, internal wars, corruption, poverty, natural disasters, et cetera. So much so that it is not migration that must be condemned, but the origin of these interminable exoduses that we are all the time saying both local and international governments have preferred to close their eyes to, rather than resolving them.
But all of this numerical paraphernalia represents human lives with first and last names, as the case of the 10-year old Nicaraguan boy Wilton Gutiérrez, who fortunately was found walking along the inhospitable border. His words already form part of the history of immigrants: “Can you help me? It’s that I came with a group of people and they left me here and I don’t know where they are…I came because if not, where else am I going to go? They might rob me, kidnap me, or something…I’m scared.”
How difficult a particular family situation must be, to make one of the most difficult decisions a mother or father could ever make. This is not a moral excuse, but a reality to analyze in order to understand and resolve the issues, urgently. Only someone who has been in a situation as complicated as this one would understand these families that are risking everything.
To read the Spanish version of this article please click here.