GAO Report Sheds New Light on Newly Arrived Children from Central America

A new report reinforces what experts have been saying from the beginning about the reasons the children have come the U.S.
A new report reinforces what experts have been saying from the beginning about the reasons the children have come the U.S.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides more information about why Central American children arrived in the United States in such large numbers last year. According to the report; “El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the countries with the greatest increase in migrating UAC [Unaccompanied Children]…were among the top five countries with the highest homicide rates worldwide in 2012.” The report does not note that in 2014 the homicide rate in El Salvador rose 57 percent between 2013 and 2014.

The GAO conducted interviews with U.S. government officials to find out what they thought was behind the increase in migration. According to these on-the-ground officials:

“State [Department], USAID, and DHS officials stationed in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras most commonly identified crime and violence and economic concerns as causes primarily responsible for the rapid increase in UAC migration to the United States.”

The notion that smuggling networks were behind the increase was cited last among the reasons cited by U.S. officials.

The citation of gang violence as a cause of the refugee flow was ubiquitous by the American experts. Every single official surveyed by GAO cited crime and violence as a major cause. According to the GAO:

Agency officials responses noted that gangs, drug trafficking, and criminal organizations contributed to the crime and violence. For example, the State official’s response for Honduras noted that gang activities, such as extortion and forced conscription, affect Hondurans of all economic levels. The USAID officials’ responses for El Salvador and Guatemala characterized crime and violence as growing concerns. The USAID officials’ responses also noted that El Salvador’s national and local governments’ inability to respond to violence and gang activity, and Guatemala’s generally weak rule of law, contributed to the effects of violence on the population. In addition, the USAID official’s response for El Salvador noted gang violence limits foreign direct investment, limiting economic opportunities and exacerbating poverty.

The report also lists actions taken by the U.S. to reduce future flows of endangered children. They are both pitiful and regressive for the most part. For example, one of the largest programs is half-a-million dollars for patrols along the Salvadoran border to keep children from crossing into other countries. A second program introduces a disease-resistant coffee strain into Honduras even though most of the children come from urban areas. In Honduras, where officials said that mistrust of the National Police contributed to the migration, a total of $25,000 was appropriated by the State Department to improve criminal justice training.

This report tells us that U.S. officials in-country know that the children are coming here because of the horrendous violence in their homelands.

You can read the report here.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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