Children fleeing gangs for safety in the United States

December 16, 2014 6:01 am
by David Jakeman

This summer, children arriving at the US-Mexico border were dominating the news. As Central American gangs grow more powerful, vulnerable children are being forced to flee their homes and families. A decade ago, unaccompanied minors from Central America numbered about 5,800 a year, last year they numbered 25,000, and this year they are estimated to rise above 60,000. The Department of Health and Human Services’ data shows that 95% of these unaccompanied minors come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued separate reports connecting this influx of children to the increase of gang prevalence and breakdown in the rule of law across Central American governments.

Once these children arrive at the US border, the US has a legal obligation to protect and house them until a family member or guardian can be found. Under former President George W. Bush’s 2008 law which was enacted to combat child trafficking, unaccompanied Central American children in custody must be treated under the “best interest of the child” standard. This standard gives Central American children greater protection and legal rights than Mexican children fleeing similar violence, and allows children to have legal representation in protection proceeding. While the US government does not have to provide a lawyer to these children, they have the right to find one of their own choosing to help them assess protection law and their own circumstances. If you or a loved one have arrived in the US seeking protection from Central American gang violence, you have the right to ask an attorney to help you apply for legal protection.