A Home for Minors: How do undocumented minors create a community in LA?

Since Summer of 2014 I have had the great pleasure of being consulted on various projects (community, legal, media, etc.) regarding the condition of unaccompanied Central American child migrants’ migration journeys to the U.S. and their lives once here. A recent google search led me to a project led by Rebecca Gibian of the USC Annenberg Media entitled, A Home for Minors. My commentary is included in “Creating a Home: Lindy and Aldo’s Stories.”

Click here for another resource detailing the experiences of unaccompanied minors in Los Angeles, California.


ICYMI: Al Jazeera America reports, “When Migrant Kids Become Homeless”

LOS ANGELES — The community where Cristian Gomez grew up in rural Guatemala didn’t have traffic lights. So it wasn’t until he was 13, when he moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to live with his aunt, that he learned how to cross a busy city street.

Back then, Gomez stood 4 feet 8 inches tall and weighed just 80 pounds. He didn’t speak English and had little education. Seven years later, he is still slight — barely 5 feet tall and a little over 100 pounds. Otherwise, he looks like the typical American college student he is, his English only slightly accented. But his immigrant ascent in this country was not without setbacks, including a two-year stretch when he was homeless.

Stephanie Canizales, a sociology Ph.D. student at the University of Southern California who has studied indigenous unaccompanied youths from Guatemala in Los Angeles, has found that most experience short-term bouts of homelessness or otherwise become disengaged from their support systems.

The reasons for this disengagement are varied. Some children are released to older siblings just barely out of childhood themselves. Family members unaware that a child was heading their way may view the new arrival as a burden. Sponsors may refuse to enroll children in school, insisting they live somewhere else if they want to study instead of work.

Read more here: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/11/24/migrant-kids-homelessness-los-angeles.html.

Fast fashion, slow integration: Guatemalan youth navigate life and labor in Los Angeles

Americans often associate factory work—and the violence and exploitation of manufacturing industries—with distant nations like China, Vietnam, India, and Cambodia. While stories of workers transported like pigs,” trapped behind barred windows and locked doors, and protected from death by suicide nets trigger broad concern, they tend to ultimately be cast off as the problems of “foreign” societies.

The Emmy Award-winning documentary Made in L.A. brought the narrative of garment worker exploitation back to U.S. soil, but the film focuses on the experiences of adult women. My research thus addresses a critical and unexamined space of inquiry: It moves beyond media attention and scholarship on garment workers abroad or adult laborers in the U.S. to center on the experiences of garment working immigrant youth. This project uncovers the conditions these young people encounter and the ways labor exploitation affects the long-term integration of unaccompanied immigrant youth.

My ethnographic research focuses on the integration experiences of Guatemalan young people who arrive unaccompanied in the United States and live and work in Los Angeles. I have spent over 500 hours participating in support groups, church youth groups, cultural events and community garden gatherings, as well as conducting formal and informal interviews.

Telling stories of poverty, hunger, and suffering, youths’ experiences evidence the impact of the expansion of free trade policies on migration. These policies have decreased local agricultural production and manufacturing, increased food insecurity, and undermined the public sector workforce. And while Central American leaders of the 1970s and 1980s attempted to reduce poverty through land redistribution or taxation of foreign companies, the U.S. thwarted these efforts by sending the CIA to remove these leaders, thereby introducing more violence to the region and further spurring migration.

Contemporary Central American migrants, including children and youth, leave their homes in search for families already in the U.S., but also as a strategy to provide for their families who remain abroad. Unfortunately, many youth who migrate in search of educational opportunities and work to alleviate their family’s poverty do not find refuge in the U.S. and continue struggling to make ends meet.

Read the full story on Youth Circulations here.

A Year After Obama Declared a “Humanitarian Situation” at the Border, Child Migration Continues

Following MPI’s report which I recently shared, I am sharing NACLA’s story on increased enforcement in Mexico.

They write,

“While children have been fleeing poverty and violence in Central America for years, in 2014 the number of unaccompanied migrant children apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border reached an astonishing peak. By the end of fiscal year 2014, the U.S. had apprehended over 68,000 children at the border, resulting in a media and political maelstrom. Given that the U.S. Border Patrol recently reported a dramatic drop in the number of unaccompanied migrant children detained at the U.S./Mexico border, it might seem like the crisis at the border has ended. Certainly, a 51% drop since last year is significant, and some media sources have lauded the U.S. government’s collaborative efforts for resolving what President Obama referred to as an “urgent humanitarian situation.” Yet, after speaking with unaccompanied migrant youth in Mexican immigrant detention centers this summer, we’re far from convinced. In fact, the ‘urgent humanitarian situation’ is nowhere near resolved; it’s merely shifted south of the U.S./Mexico border where children continue to be detained and deported at an alarming rate. Rather than solve the ‘crisis at the border,’ the U.S. has elected to outsource immigration enforcement to Mexico instead.”

Read more here.

Migration Policy Institute releases report: “Migrants Deported From the U.S. and Mexico to the Northern Triangle”

This report very aptly demonstrates that the decrease in the number of UCMs apprehended at the US border are not due to bettering conditions in CAm, but in greater intervention of the Mexican government.

From MPI’s press release:

“WASHINGTON – The United States and Mexico have apprehended nearly 1 million Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran migrants since 2010, deporting more than 800,000 of them, including more than 40,000 children. While the United States led in pace and number of apprehensions of Central Americans in 2010-2014, Mexico has since pulled ahead, apprehending one-third more adults and children than the United States so far this year.

Amid increasingly muscular enforcement by Mexico, U.S. apprehensions of Central Americans for fiscal 2015 to date have fallen by more than half compared to the prior year. Many of those who previously would have made it to the U.S. border and been apprehended by the Border Patrol now are being intercepted by Mexican authorities.

The findings are contained in a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report, Migrants Deported from the United States and Mexico to the Northern Triangle: A Statistical and Socioeconomic Profile, which suggests that the increased Mexican enforcement capacity is reshaping regional dynamics and perhaps ushering in changes to long-lasting trends in regional apprehensions.

“The main force at play in the region today with respect to immigration enforcement is the ‘squeezing of the balloon’,” said Doris Meissner, director of MPI’s U.S. immigration policy program and co-director of MPI’s Regional Migration Study Group, which produced the report. “To succeed, responses to regional migration dynamics must move beyond shifting the flows and instead begin deflating the pressures that generate them.”

To achieve a more comprehensive policy, the report suggests that the United States and Mexico, working with Central America, should design migration policies with workable enforcement and humanitarian protection as well as development policies that address poor standards of living, improve citizen security in the Northern Triangle and facilitate the re-integration of deportees.”

ICYMI: LA Times reports, “Young immigrants placed in sponsor homes are at risk of abuse, experts say”

“The federal government has created a pseudo-foster-care system for placing [unaccompanied migrant] youths with relatives and other “sponsors” without the same levels of screening and follow-up found in state and local foster-care agencies.

Canizales, among those pushing for more oversight, recalled a 14-year-old Salvadoran girl who was placed with a distant relative in Los Angeles. He lost his job and gave her to other relatives, a couple who abused her.

‘They don’t feel a sense of obligation to the child,’ she said. ‘There has to be some kind of accountability system where children are just not placed in situations like that. If we’re just pushing children out, we’re not doing a favor to the communities, the families or the child.'”

Read the full story at LA Times.

Where unaccompanied minors go when they immigrate to LA

“More than 40,000 unaccompanied children have fled to the U.S. since January to escape violence plaguing their home Central American countries.

However, minors have been coming to the U.S. for years without their families — sometimes to escape violence and other times to make money they can send back home.

Stephanie Canizales, a USC doctoral student, has been researching how these minors grew up alone in a foreign land. She has been documenting a support group in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Pico-Union for former child migrants — now in their 20s in and 30s — many of whom came for economic opportunities.”

Full story and audio here.

The Untold History of Unaccompanied Minors

“Public opinion remains deeply divided over whether the U.S. government has a moral obligation to offer asylum to Central Americans children escaping political persecution or violence in their home countries. According to a survey published last month by the Associated Press, 53 percent of the U.S. public think their country has no obligation to take in the latest wave of “tired and huddled masses” fleeing troubles in their home countries.

We talked to 11 scholars and activists who think the United States, a self-professed nation of immigrants, does have a moral obligation to provide asylum to Central American minors, many of whom — experts argue — are fleeing violence that resulted from U.S. foreign policy.

Fusion presents the untold history behind the unaccompanied minors, a collection of 60-second videos.

Life for child migrants is even harder beyond the US border

The following comes from an article I wrote for The Conversation:

Between 2003 and 2011, 8,000 to 40,000 unaccompanied migrant children from Central America were stopped every year on the southern border of the US. When this number boomed to more than 57,000 during the first nine months of 2014, president Barack Obama announced an “urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated Federal response” at the border.

In early July, Obama asked Congress for $3.7bn in emergency spending to increase man power and surveillance at the border, and expand facilities and legal services for detained children. Later in July, Obama met with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, from which many of these children come.

There have been many debates about the causes of this surge of child migrants, as well as the best strategies for addressing the trend along the border and abroad. But there has been little if any discussion about what happens to child migrants who successfully enter undetected. We can only speculate on the consequences of the US’s failure to address the crisis.

Since the summer of 2012, I have conducted observations and interviews with Guatemalan Maya young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 who arrived as unaccompanied minors between four and 19 years ago. My research shows that violence and poverty are not things of the past for unaccompanied Central American children who come of age in the shadows.


The risk of unaccompanied migrant youth

In “At the Crossroads: Youth at the Intersection of the Family and the State”, Lauren Heidbrink writes:

“In addition to being subjected to the vicissitudes of the war on terrorism and the war on immigrants, unaccompanied children also exist as a particular kind of palpable threat to the body politic. The view that children are somehow in the process of becoming and of being not-yet-socialized translates into the contested potentiality of migrant youth. On the one hand, the potential for socialization and rehabilitation offers some assurances to the state which seeks their allegiance; on the other, the malleability of impressionable youth elevates them open to forming suspicious or even danger allegiances with other states, criminals or terrorists. The diffuseness of terrorism leaves those allegiances simultaneously undetermined, yet in many respects, inconsequential. It is the fear of the relation of these youths’ potential influenced by violent terrorist organizations, that warrants additional attention and containment. Images of child soldiers from conflicts around the world and headlines about children as young as 14 training to be suicide bombers in Gaza, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan offer the public further proof to the capacity of children to commit terrorism. Unaccompanied migrant youth become yet another group of unencumbered, untrustworthy, born men requiring law-enforcement intervention to control the threat to he nation (see Bernstein and Lichtblau, 2005). While seemingly irreconcilable with the image of the hardened criminal incapable of rehabilitation, the still-malleable youth as a potential home-grown terrorist stems from social anxieties of violence and xenophobia. The out-of-place migrant youth transforms from at risk to the risk” (176).

As debates swirl around how to address the humanitarian crisis along the US/Mexico border, a new threat narrative forms and children are made “impossible subjects”.