In August 2013, we published a report that discussed the issue of the increasing number of minor migrants mostly from Central America, who were arriving to the United States without their parents. During the last few days, the issue has gained national attention due to the increase of this critical situation that could quickly become a humanitarian crisis.
The initial assumption from the media is that the sudden increase of underage migrants is a consequence of the potential of immigration reform and so-called “amnesty” for those inside the U.S. Borders. This explanation misses the complete picture and focuses on the symptoms rather than the disease. Firstly, as our report published one year ago shows, the situation is not new. Immigration of minors has been an issue as early as 2004. Secondly, I can´t stress enough the countries of origin of these minors. The vast majority of these minor migrants are from Central America, not Mexico. If the prospectus of amnesty were indeed the main motivation of the latest surge, why would appeal only to Central Americans and not Mexicans? It simply does not make sense.
The only difference between a Central American vs. a Mexican immigrant is that, due to the distance, non-Mexican immigrants are not deported immediately. Instead, these kids are put on hold for 15 days until they have to present themselves in front of an ICE judge. This is a calculated gamble. The thought is that once inside the country perhaps these kids can find a way to remain here.
The main question, however; remains unanswered. What is happening in Central American that is forcing parents to separate from their kids and send them to the United States?
The trend of underage migrants crossing the border since the middle of the last decade matches the escalation of violence in Central America as a result of the push from Mexico of Drug Cartels into the region. Without the same capacity to fight these cartels as Mexico, the situation in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras is increasingly dire.
Parental fear of their kids to fall victim of the drug cartel violence is a more reasonable explanation for the emigration of these minors rather than simply hoping for some kind of amnesty.
In short, the migration of these minors is caused by the increased violence of drug cartels in Central America which is fueled by the fight for a share of the greatest drug market in the world : the United States. Seeing this as only an immigration issue misses the root cause therefore prevents us from correctly diagnosing the problem and applying a true long lasting solution. This is a regional problem that requires a regional approach and coordination among different governments. Doing anything else would simply treat one of the symptoms leaving the disease largely untouched.