Today as we celebrate International Human Rights Day, we think about our work protecting children on the move around the world. Earlier this year, KIND launched KIND México to ensure the safety of child migrants and to safeguard their rights.
KIND first went to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018 to monitor conditions and the treatment of unaccompanied children. We were shocked and greatly disturbed by what we witnessed in the makeshift and clearly unsafe refugee camps filled with children and families waiting for their chance to apply for U.S. protection, steps away from the U.S. border wall.
- Children languishing with no running water and in some cases, irregular access to food.
- Children who had become sick from living outside in cold and wet conditions for weeks and needing medical care – including a toddler who suffered a seizure.
- 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 about:
- A girl who was selling her body every night in order to provide food for her 13- year-old sister.
- 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.
- Children too scared to accept assistance from anyone since they did not know who to trust.
We also found that unaccompanied children were systematically being prevented from applying for protection in the United States, a significant violation of U.S. and international law.
Over the next year, KIND returned to the border several times to assist unaccompanied children and observe how new Trump Administration policies were impacting access to the border and children’s ability to seek protection, and how the Mexican government was responding.
We found that the Mexican government for its part was blocking unaccompanied children from reaching the border, sending 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, even when it may have been in the child’s best interest to do so, a grave violation of these children’s rights.
We met children who told us they were agreeing to go back to their country but planned to return as soon as possible because they were not being given an option to apply for U.S. protection. We feared for these children as U.S. and Mexican polices were leading them to take serious risks, rather than resolving their cases safely or based on their best interests.
These visits reinforced to us that the needs of migrant children do not start or end at a border. While we have worked since 2010 to help address the protection needs children face in their home countries through our Child Migrant Return and Reintegration Program, and since 2017 through our gender-based violence prevention programming, our experience demonstrated the need for a cross-border program that would protect migrant children during their journey and assist them at the U.S.-Mexico border. It also brought to light the critical need for legal assistance by attorneys in the United States, as the obstacles to protection put in place by the governments of the United States and Mexico increased.
Today, more than ever before, the rights of children seeking protection are under threat. Since March, more than 10,000 children traveling alone have been turned away at the U.S. border.
To help address the myriad protection issues, earlier this year KIND expanded our legal and advocacy work into Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border and launched KIND México to promote the rights of unaccompanied migrant children. Through transnational service coordination, and in collaboration with civil society and government stakeholders, we ensure legal representation and social services provision through a holistic approach to children entering the United States.
KIND México provides training to Mexican stakeholders, including government agencies, and to international and nongovernmental organizations on U.S. legal protections, custody issues, and best practices for working with unaccompanied children. We promote laws and policies that strengthen children’s rights. KIND Mexico also work closely with Mexican child welfare agencies on cases of vulnerable unaccompanied children in their custody.
We have provided child-friendly legal orientations to children in Mexico, particularly at the border, to inform them of their rights and options. Many subsequently presented at a U.S. port of entry seeking asylum.
Thanks to our presence in the United States, KIND is able to track these cases and, after children are released from ORR shelters, we either represent the children in their immigration cases or refer them to legal service providers in the areas where they go to live, if outside our service areas.
We are grateful to our talented team, our dedicated partners, and everyone who has supported KIND’s mission to protect vulnerable immigrant children wherever they are in their journey for protection. We cannot think of a better way to honor this special day.