Children in Crisis at the Border

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The New York Times tells the story of three sisters from Guatemala, ages 10, 9, and 6, coughing and sniffling at a migrant shelter near the border.

“The girls’ mother, Nelcy, 28, said her daughters got sick not during their long journey to the border in the back of a pickup truck, but during the 12 days they spent at two crowded government detention facilities before arriving at the privately run shelter in Texas. “It was very cold, especially for the children,” said Nelcy, who would only be identified by her first name. “My children got sick. They gave us aluminum blankets, but it wasn’t enough….

“Like Nelcy and her daughters, the new arrivals from Central America are coming in much sicker, after being held far longer than ever before in bare-bones government detention facilities never intended for children.”

Some, like Nelcy and her daughters, are released because U.S. immigration authorities have nowhere to put them. Overburdened nonprofit agencies struggle to find some way to feed and house them. The government doesn’t care about the chaos it creates.

“Some of those involved in the policymaking said that there was open acknowledgment within the government that the newest policies under development — a plan that would require asylum seekers to wait in Mexico through the duration of their immigration cases, and one to build tent cities along the border to house more families — were either likely to face an immediate court injunction or were so costly that they could not be justified to taxpayers. But the officials said they were under orders from the White House to push forward.

“It’s like, ‘O.K., why are we working on this if it’s just another lawsuit in the making?’” said a second Homeland Security official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Everybody knows that it’s going to be challenged in the courts and likely struck down. I don’t think the people at the top feel like they have a choice. They just do what they are asked to do.”

Other families still face separation at the border. Sergio Angel Martinez Lopez was deported from the United States as a young man, and married and had a child in Mexico. The trouble began last year—police stopping a driver outside his house, and then gangs blaming him somehow for the police, and threatening him and his family. Mexican police told him to move, to hide. He tried, but that wasn’t enough. The gangs found his family, killed his wife in a drive-by shooting, and kept coming after him and his son.

This summer he fled, waiting six weeks at the border for his turn to ask for asylum,. When he finally had the chance to tell his story to U.S. immigration authorities, they locked him up in the Otay Mesa detention center and took his son away. They told him the child could go to his grandmother in Florida. That was two months ago. The little boy had his second birthday in ICE custody, separated from every family member who loves him.

“With news of two children dying in immigration custody in recent weeks, Martinez is especially concerned. He calls every day to the facility in Texas that is housing his son to ask whether his mother’s application to sponsor the boy has been processed.

“He’s had one video call with his son since they were separated, though he’s requested several more.

“Martinez’s normally talkative and playful toddler didn’t say much as he looked at his father on the screen.”

On the other side of the border, families wait in Tijuana. Norma Perez and her 5-year-old son wait in the largest shelter, a former concert venue called El Barretal.

“As she waits for her chance to apply for asylum in the United States, Ms. Pérez has decided to apply for a temporary humanitarian visa in Mexico. That will let her find a job in Tijuana and support herself and her child for as long as necessary, she said.”

On both sides of the border, facilities for migrants are strained to the bursting point, and inadequate for family needs. AP describes border crossers stuck in holding cells for days, leading to more sick children.

The New Yorker says there is an actual crisis at the border, “just not the one the President keeps talking about.”

“In the last half decade, while immigration at the U.S. border has dropped significantly compared with earlier years, the profile of migrants has changed in ways that the U.S. immigration system has never been designed to address. Instead of young men and seasonal workers, most of whom migrated from Mexico, the majority of people now arriving are asylum-seeking families and children from Central America. In November, more than twenty-five thousand families crossed the U.S. border—the highest such monthly total on record—fleeing violence, poverty, and rampant political corruption that have made parts of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala virtually uninhabitable. ,,,

“These families are not trying to evade anyone. They’re presenting themselves to the first Border Patrol agents they can find,” a current Administration official told me. “This is not a border-security crisis. It’s an administrative-processing problem.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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