A team of three KIND staff members went to Tijuana in December to look at conditions unaccompanied children were facing and their access to asylum in the United States. The Q&A below explains what they saw.
What did you see when you went to Tijuana and talked to unaccompanied children and families in the refugee camps?
We were shocked by what we saw. Children and families were living in squalid conditions in make-shift refugee camps and were clearly suffering. There was no running water in some of the camps and it was hard at times to get any food. We saw children who had become sick from living outside in cold and wet conditions for weeks and needed medical care, including a toddler who had suffered a seizure. We saw a child scraping the remains of a can of formula for more, hungry, and crying when her mother said there was no more food. We learned of a girl who was selling her body every night in order to provide food for her 13-year-old sister.
Are the camps safe? Is the area around the camps safe?
No, it was all very dangerous. We learned of people exploiting children by offering false promises of safe shelter and subjecting children to abuse and exploitation after they were able to convince the children to go with them. We found many children were too scared to accept assistance from anyone since they did not know who to trust. Two migrant boys were murdered in the area soon after we left.
Are unaccompanied children at the border being allow to ask for asylum?
No, we learned that unaccompanied children were being systematically prevented from applying for protection. This is a significant violation of U.S. and international law. We also learned that the Mexican government was blocking unaccompanied children from reaching the border, sending the children back to the streets or turning them over to Mexican child welfare officials, who detained them and offered them only two options – apply for asylum in Mexico or be sent back to their home country. Mexican officials were not offering the children their third legal option – seeking U.S. protection, a grave violation of these children’s rights
What is KIND doing about this? What can readers do?
KIND is forcefully advocating for unaccompanied children to be allowed to apply for asylum and working with policymakers and other stakeholders to make this happen, using the report of our findings, The Protection Gauntlet. Readers can contact their Senators and Representatives and demand that they work to re-open our border and pressure the Administration to follow the laws of the United States. Readers can also write opeds in their local media and encourage members of their community to act as well.
What is “Remain in Mexico”?
Remain in Mexico is a very dangerous policy that could lead to more murders like that of two teenage boys from Honduras. It will force children and families to wait indefinitely in dangerous conditions with little to no access to basic services or lawyers to help them claim asylum or other protection. Read here to learn more about why Remain in Mexico is a dangerous and unlawful policy.