Undocumented minors

The arrival in the United States of tens of thousands of unaccompanied undocumented children from Central America reflects the desperation of parents in societies shaken by violence. At the same time, it challenges the U.S. immigration system.

There is no doubt that it cannot be an easy decision for a minor’s parents to send him or her across Mexico, with all the dangers this entails, and arrive in the U.S. after crossing the desert led by a “coyote.”

Central American authorities, like those of El Salvador, are warning adults about the serious dangers that minors face in traveling to the United States. However, that message has not been as successful as expected.

Daily violence, especially gang-related, is a big cause for concern—which at times is worsened by rumors like the one that circulated recently. Supposedly, American authorities were releasing women with children and unaccompanied minors. In other cases, it is a risky attempt to reunite families and the ever-present wishes of parents who want to give their children a better future.

Expectations are that minors with families in the U.S. will be reunited with them as soon as possible. That must be the priority.

This is one of the goals for the Obama administration, which for now is temporarily housing these minors in military facilities. Border Patrol estimates that this year it will detain 90,000 minors.

This case presents a mixture of complex factors, like the social and economic situation of the children’s native countries, the debatable decision made by the parents or the adult in charge to send them, the dangerous trip through Mexico and U.S. immigration laws.

Improving the conditions in Central American countries will be tough. Even if it does not seem so now, it is easier and more realistic to overhaul immigration laws to allow for family reunifications and in turn, for less risky ways for minors to immigrate.