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Raising awareness about unaccompanied youths' unaddressed needs in anti-immigrant times

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Katya Murillo and Sophia Rodriguez, PhD

University of Maryland, College Park

November 3, 2022

In this week's blog, UMD doctoral student in international education policy, Katya Murillo, reflects upon the conditions of unaccompanied youth amid on-going political charades and anti-immigrant rhetoric. In drawing attention to the politics of migration, Katya underscores the need for educational and social institutions to equip themselves with the knowledge and awareness of pre- and post migration processes, conditions, and services in order to facilitate the welcome of newly arrived unaccompanied youth. Such a welcome is guided by U.S. laws; yet, political discourse and anti-immigrant rhetoric often overshadow legal rights and protections.

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By Katya Murillo

Earlier this year, we saw Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ cruel attempt to push back against migration by using immigrants as political pawns when he flew asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. This was DeSantis’ brazen response to his own, and other right-wing politicians’ and commentators’ criticisms of the Biden administration’s “clandestine” flights carrying asylum seekers. According to DeSantis and right-wing media, these flights takeoff in the middle of the night on Americans' money in an attempt to keep Americans in the dark about how many immigrants are entering the country. These flights, though, are not transporting drug-dealing, rapist, criminals as our former president would like us to believe. Rather, they carry unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing their home countries. By law, once unaccompanied children arrive at the US border, the government has 72 hours to place them in licensed shelters around the country overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the Department of Health and Human Services. As unaccompanied children continue to arrive in the US in record numbers and increasingly contentious and often hostile politics, local authorities and institutions are equipped as possible to ease unaccompanied youths’ transition.

While we have observed a steady increase of unaccompanied youth since 2014, US Border Patrol agents were able to quickly reject immigrants from entering the US, including those seeking asylum under Title 42 during the pandemic. CBS news reported that nearly 130,000 unaccompanied children entered the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s shelter system in 2022, surpassing 2021’s record of 122,000. Roughly 70 percent of unaccompanied minors arriving in the US are 14 year-old boys from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador where children are vulnerable to gang violence and poverty. According to recent reports, the current average stay at ORR shelters is 28 days.

Several US laws, namely the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (“TVPRA”) and the Flores Settlement Agreement, are in place to protect unaccompanied children while in custody of the US government. These laws include certain standards of care and access to medical, legal, and educational resources. However, reports from shelters in Chicago and Fort Bliss account cases of delays in release, lack of language translation, and self-harm among the children. In addition to challenges within shelters, unaccompanied minors face the burden of having to deal with underprepared immigration courts and school systems, delaying legal asylum and cultural integration processes.

Though the US and Central American governments have rolled out efforts to address migration and curb gang violence, ongoing political violence and climate disasters in the region and elsewhere in Latin America suggest the likelihood of continued arrival of immigrant children in record numbers at the US border. Right-winged rhetoric aimed at pushing forward their ongoing efforts to intensify securitization at the US-Mexico border and create an atmosphere of fear around new immigrants only leads to greater instability for unaccompanied children.An NPR report states that while one in five Republicans see immigration as their number one issue, only one percent of Democrats and eight percent of Independents do. As we near the 2022 mid-term election, it is imperative that we prioritize the push against the anti-immigrant narrative and Republicans’ mistreatment of real human beings as toys in their game.

Even further, we need to focus our efforts on ensuring shelters, courts, and schools are as equipped as possible to meet the needs of this vulnerable population. This means preparing case workers and teachers, inside and outside shelters, to understand the language, mental, physical, and education needs of the children; this means streamlining the bureaucratic pipeline through which unaccompanied children are so often recklessly pushed through; this means refusing to allow our politicians to toy with the lives of vulnerable migrant children and families.

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Suggested Citation: Murillo, K. & Rodriguez, S. (2022, November 3). Raising awareness about unaccompanied youths’ unaddressed needs in anti-immigrant times. Immigrant Ed Next.

Copyright © 2022: Sophia Rodriguez, Immigrant Ed Next-All Rights Reserved

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