Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric, technology, and writing.
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Why Central Americans flee to the U.S. despite "zero tolerance"

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Behind the global furor over America’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy are tens of thousands of adults and children — most of them from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — who have risked extortion and sexual violence along the journey, and now separation from their families upon arrival. So why take those risks to reach the U.S.?

Data: United States Border Patrol; Chart: Kerrie Vila /Axios

The big picture: This is not just a U.S. immigration crisis —it’s a Central American refugee crisis which started around 2013 and has continued to this day. In these countries, fear is often the primary motivator, rather than economic incentives.


By the numbers

  • Families: Nearly 200,000 parents and children have been apprehended crossing the Southern border from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in under three years, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
  • Unaccompanied minors: Beginning in 2013, the number of children apprehended at the border without a parent has spiked, with more than 200,000 coming from the three countries since that time. This year, the vast majority have come from Guatemala.
  • As these numbers have risen, there has been a dramatic decline in apprehensions of Mexicans, both among children and adults. In 2000, 98% of those apprehended at the southern border were Mexican. Last year, just 42% were.
  • For the first time last year, the U.S. received more asylum claims than any other country in the world, according to new UN data, with 43% coming from Central and North America. However, the U.S. only made decisions on one-fifth of those applications, leaving hundreds of thousands in limbo.

Behind the numbers

  • El Salvador has by far the highest murder rate in the world. Rates of violent death there are higher than in every war-torn country except Syria, according to a recent study.
  • Honduras is second, just above Venezuela, which is in the midst one of the world’s largest migrant crises.
  • Guatemala is 11th, with a rate that is still 30 times higher than those of countries like Germany and the U.K.
  • There are more than 50,000 members of violent gangs across the three countries, per the International Crisis Group. Extortion is a fact of daily life in cities like San Salvador and Tegucigalpa, and carries with it the threat of violence. Turf wars between two Salvadoran gangs have displaced some 300,000 people, per the AP.

What it looks like: A Salvadoran woman waiting in Tijuana with her husband and three children, one of whom is just ten months old, told El Pais that the family fled after she was repeatedly threatened by a gang member who had become obsessed with her. She said the child separation policy “hasn’t changed my mind” about trying to cross into the U.S. and seek asylum.

“If my children can stay there, I have hope that I will be able to see them again. In my country, the only thing that awaits me is death.”


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betajames
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20,000 children

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From The New York Times:
The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday asked the Pentagon to make preparations to house as many as 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on American military bases, a United States official said.
“Zero-tolerance” policies never work well. These preparations bode a humanitarian nightmare — something like a junior version of Guantanamo Bay.
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Trump executive order: Indefinite detention of immigrant families, 2,300 children to remain separated from parents

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Wednesday’s order does not revoke the “zero tolerance” policy, does not apply to children already separated from family and will drastically expand the number of people detained in immigration internment camps.
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betajames
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Recycling is collapsing under our anxiety about the planet

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Your coffee cups are costing us.
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What Just Happened?

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image of border.png

Christ Chavez/Getty Images

Let’s get one thing straight: ANY person persecuted by their own government or in their own country has a right to asylum. To seek protection in another country. To find sanctuary.

Right now, families are coming to the United States looking for refuge. But instead of processing asylum seekers upon arrival, the United States, we, have decided to treat them as criminals. And even as you read this, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are ripping children away from their parents, separating siblings, and placing babies and toddlers in “tender age” camps, all in the name of border security. 

The greatest and most infuriating irony about those who seek asylum is that the violence and political insecurity they’re fleeing is—in almost every single case—a direct result of United States policy and actions. Imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacy created this problem, and as people try desperately to keep their families safe, imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacy are turning them away, and destroying their families in the process.

While the U.S. history of mass deportation is not new (the Obama administration deported more people than any prior administration) and children were separated from their families during slavery, the internment of Japanese families during World War II, and the forceful taking of Native American land after the 1887 passage of the Dawes Act, taking children hostage as a tactic to deter immigration is a disgusting low. Again, there is no law, no codified policy, that dictates that children must be separated from their families in order to enforce immigration laws. And yet, between April 19 and May 31 of this year, over 2,000 children have been separated from their parents at the border, and that number is still climbing. 

Depending on who you listen to, the current administration is denying that this atrocity is being carried out (DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen), claiming credit for ICE’s reign of terror (Stephen Miller, Trump’s domestic-policy advisor and proud white nationalist ) or blaming it on Obama-era policies and “the Democrats” (Trump himself). But the “zero-tolerance” policy you’re hearing about? Trump. Tearing families apart at the border? This is explicitly a Trump-era policy. Criminalizing those seeking asylum for crossing a border without permission, despite the fact  that you must be within the borders of the country in order to ask for asylum? Explicitly Trump. Detaining pregnant women for indefinite periods, women who have committed no crime, women who are seeking relief here in the United States? Trump, still. Encouraging violent and traumatizing behavior be hurled at those who need this country’s protection most? Trump through and through. 

What’s the point of all of this terror if it isn’t the safety of people living in the United States? Political capital. Leverage. As of this morning, Trump has announced that he’s issuing an executive order to stop the practice of separating families at the border. The practice that his own administation announced and began implementing. The one he has been fully in control of this entire time. Many analysts believe that Trump is flipping the script so that he can use this enormous, visible suffering of families to pressure Democrats into funding his infamous border wall. 

Our laws are not new. Using the suffering of others for leverage in Washington isn’t new either. But ICE and the Trump administration’s horrific practices of enforcement have made our immigration crisis, the one that the United States is responsible for creating, impossible for a still-too-complacent general public to ignore. 

This administration, this Congress, is carrying out these tactics in the name of United States law. And, if you live in the United States, in the name of your safety. In your name. 

Don’t let them.

Read up. And take action right away. 

—The Bitch Media Crew

MEDIA ROUNDUP

1. Detention centers are a literal nightmare. Listen to what it sounds like when children are ripped away from their families. The government is separating 65 children from their families every day.  [ProPublica, Vox]

2. Here’s what we do know about detention centers for immigrant children. And, devastatingly, information on “tender age shelters” for babies. [The Cut, The Guardian]

3. How’d we get here? Listen in to this United States immigration policy explainer from The Daily or Lee Gelernt. [The New York Times, Why Is This Happening with Chris Hayes]

4. The world is watching, as it always has been, and the U.N. has deemed our actions “unconscionable.” [CBS News]

5. Trump’s senior advisor, Stephen Miller, sees terrorizing families at the border as our nation reacts in horror as a feature, not a bug. [The Atlantic]

6. Even former FLOTUS Laura Bush is speaking out. [The Washington Post]

7. And over at The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino explains why Pixar’s Coco is a definitive movie for this moment. [The New Yorker]

8. Ripping children away from their parents is creating compounding trauma for thousands of children. [Vox]

9. Lastly, here’s Trump reversing course and claiming the role of hero. [The Washington Post]

Let’s get one thing straight: ANY person persecuted by their own government or in their own country has a right to asylum. To seek protection in another country. To find sanctuary.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

Are you a spanish speaker, do you have legal expertise on immigration, and are you able to volunteer? The Texas Civil Rights Project may need you. [Texas Civil Rights Project]

Donate to RAICES to get legal representation for uncaccompanied children now. [RAICES]

Join the coalition of proud members led by Women Belong and attend a protest in your community. [Families Belong Together]

Donate to Al Otro Lado to provide social services support and legal representation to families at the border. [Al Otro Lado]

Follow United We Dream, the largest immigrant-led youth organization in the world and support their work to renew DACA. [United We Dream]

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The bottom line: Trump ending a child separation crisis of his own creation

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President Trump has signed an executive order intended to end the child migration crisis he created, only five days after telling Fox News that he was powerless to use an executive order to fix it.

The bottom line: Despite Trump's deflections — that his administration was simply enforcing existing law, or that any change would have to be enacted by Congress — by signing this executive order, Trump is ending a crisis created entirely by his own administration.


The original law

  • In 1997, the Clinton administration agreed to The Flores Settlement, which removed unaccompanied minors from child immigration shelters and placed them with their parents or relatives, or the "least restrictive" shelter.
  • In 2008, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act enacted rules on how unaccompanied children should be treated after crossing the border in order to avoid them being trafficked.
  • In 2015, the 9th Circuit Appeals Court set a general standard that, under the Flores Settlement, the government cannot hold accompanied or unaccompanied minors in custody for more than 20 days. However, the ruling did not apply to their parents. Therefore, immigration enforcement could either release the whole family into the U.S. or release the children and keep the parents in detention.

Go deeper: How Trump can separate migrant families.

The Trump administration's family separation policy

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration's "zero tolerance" policy, which aggressively enforced an existing law that makes illegal border crossing a federal misdemeanor, with the goal of criminally prosecuting 100% of immigrants that violate the law.
  • With every adult immigrant being turned over after crossing the border for federal prosecution, children were then separated from their families and sent elsewhere while their parents were criminally charged.
  • The "zero-tolerance" policy is not law, and could be changed by the executive branch at any time.

Go deeper: What happens when families cross the border.

Trump's days of deflection

  • President Trump kicked the issue to Congress. A former GOP leadership aide told Axios' Caitlin Owens: "It's the legislative strategy of rolling a grenade into the room."
  • Trump has also tried to blame Democrats for the policy, saying they are "PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS," and "won't give us the votes needed to pass good immigration legislation."
  • He praised Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for her appearance before the press — in which she defended the policy as upholding laws passed by Congress — as "recommending changes to obsolete & nasty laws, which force family separation."
  • He started turning on it, but still didn't want to look weak. A senior administration official told Axios' Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan that Trump "feels boxed in, is frustrated and knows it's bad politics — but also understands it's not a fight he can back down from."

The state of play

After days of backlash — from top Republicans, the Pope, Republican and Democratic governors, former First Lady Laura Bush, and even some in the tech industry — Trump signed an executive order aimed at halting the family separation portion of the "zero-tolerance" policy, which has been his policy from day one, and which he had the power to change all along.

Tale note: At the end of the day, Trump's order doesn't touch Sessions' "zero-tolerance" policy.

Inside the room with Axios' Jonathan Swan:

  • "As with so many Trump decisions, this one has been a moment-by-moment proposition, driven by, and reactive to, the media."
  • "Sources who've been in the room with Trump tell me he realizes the overwhelming weight of the imagery of the children means he can't just ride this out as he might have originally thought he could. Anybody saying Trump thinks the family separation issue is a political winner hasn't been talking to him."
  • "He's being whipsawed between his instincts to want to be 'tough' on the border — and not be seen to be retreating from that — and the pressure coming from all corners: Republicans and Democrats in Congress, his wife Melania, his daughter Ivanka, and the TVs that are constantly playing in his White House residence and in the dining room adjoining the Oval Office."


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