(CNN) — The statistics are impressive. More of 400,000 migrant children They have crossed the U.S. border without their parents since 2003.
And every time a new wave arrives, the political controversy follows.
The numbers are increasing again, with some children arriving as young as 6 or 7 years old. This increase has caused a fierce debate in Washington, the concern of child advocates and an remergency response of the Biden government.
Why have so many children done this dangerous trip? And what happens to them once they arrive in the United States?
This is what we know.
They flee from desperate conditions
There are many reasons different reasons why migrant children travel alone to the United States. Years of reporting by CNN from the border and conversations with experts reveal a common thread: it is not a decision that no family takes lightly.
Many of these children, whom the government calls “unaccompanied minors,” apply for asylum when they arrive because they are fleeing persecution, gang violence and other forms of organized crime. The dire economic circumstances in their home countries can also contribute to their decisions to leave.
Some parents initially make the trip with their children, encouraged by misleading statements that smugglers use to lure them to the crossing. But once families arrive in northern Mexico and understand the realities of the border, they make different decisions.
In 2019For example, some parents began to send their children alone once they realized that the United States government was returning families back to Mexico, but not children traveling alone.
And those heartbreaking decisions are being made again, Hope Border Institute deputy director Marisa Limón Garza told CNN this week.
This comes with a great sacrifice. I don’t think any of these parents will get lost, ”he said. “This is a horrible decision.”
Many already have relatives living in the United States
Children who cross the border alone are first held in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), then transferred to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). in English), where they remain until they are delivered to relatives or godparents in the United States.
“The vast majority of relatives are parents or close relatives living in the United States,” says the HHS.
In other words, most unaccompanied minors who come to the United States already have a family member living here. And, as the Migration Policy Institute in a 2016 report, “The desire for reunification remains strong.”
If they make it across the border, the odds may be in their favor
The statistics from the Department of Homeland Security show that the vast majority of children who have come to the United States alone from Central America, and other regions that are not neighbors to the United States, are still here.
Of the 290,000 children in this group who have crossed the border without a relative since 2014, 4.3% were returned to their countries of origin and 28% received protection from the US courts.
And the others? As of December 2020, 68% of their cases remained unsolved: 16% had been ordered to leave, but had not yet been deported or confirmed their departure, and 52% of their cases were still in process.
But it’s important to note that statistics like this can be misleading, because it shows a picture of how a large number of cases have been handled so far, but not the whole picture. Immigration cases for children can take much longer than adult cases, due to the current provisions and special protections and even extremely backward judicial system.
There are also significant differences in the results if the children they have legal representation. And just because a case has not yet resulted in deportation doesn’t mean that it eventually won’t.
Changing policies give them a chance, for now
So why is there another wave of unaccompanied minors crossing the border right now? There are many factors that contribute to the migrants’ countries of origin, but also a big change that the Biden government made.
Officials recently ended a controversial Trump administration policy that was implemented during the pandemic. That policy, which cited public health concerns, allowed the US government to expel children arriving at the border without giving them a chance to seek asylum. Critics said it went against international law and human rights standards and endangered the lives of minors seeking safety.
The Biden Administration has emphasized that the border is not open and officials have pledged to return most of the adults and families that cross over. But the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, says that the cases of unaccompanied minors are different.
“They are vulnerable children”, said this week, “And we have ended the previous administration’s practice of expelling them.”
That means that children who have crossed the border alone will have the opportunity to submit asylum applications once again. But the results could be different from what the previous groups faced.
The Biden administration says it is working to review the system for efficiency. If they are successful, we could see an end to the long waits for answers that have allowed many children to remain in the United States for years while their cases go to court.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism