In response to the masses of Central American children fleeing to the United States, public officials have been playing up the theory that the families have just been duped by coyotes into believing that the U.S. will help them, or that some sort of pan-American game of telephone ended with Guatemalans hearing that DACA meant free green cards for all kids. Our president and vice-president have been publically lecturing Central American families on the dangers of the northward journey, as though they had neither the knowledge nor capability to consider that factor hitherto.
Today, the American Immigration Council published a report based on a year-long study of factors driving child migration and the effect of deporting children back to Central America. The full study can be read here:http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/perspectives/no-childhood-here-why-central-american-children-are-fleeing-their-homes .
The reasons that adolescents flee El Salvador according to researcher, Elizabeth Kennedy, were fear of violence, rape, kidnapping, and death at the hands of gangs that terrorize all parts of the country, together with grinding poverty. This mirrors very much what I have heard from clients from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. It's not that they do not understand the dangers of the journey, if anything they understand it much better that President Obama, since most know many who have gone before. It's not that they honestly believe that they will be awarded legal status at the border. It's just that life is so bad, so dangerous there that a perilous journey to an uncertain future is rationally considered the better option.
Sadly, our current asylum laws give little hope to most of these children, regardless of how real their fears are. The system for granting asylum or refugee status is founded in the idea of state oppression; a dictator or totalitarian regime stifling dissent and torturing the opposition. Where the terror comes instead from the chaos that reigns when criminals hold more power than the state, then proving the case for asylum is an uphill battle.