KIND advocates to ensure the rights and protection needs of unaccompanied children on the move, wherever they may be. KIND uses its expertise in unaccompanied refugee and migrant children, civil society partnerships, and pro bono network to advocate for and enhance the protection of unaccompanied children throughout the migration trajectory in countries of origin, transit, and destination.
Protecting Children in Central America and Mexico
“Most of the people who are suffering are adolescents; they are the most wanted to be killed. That is why a lot of people from where I live have gone.”
16-year-old boy, El Salvador
An unprecedented number of unaccompanied children mainly from Central America have been migrating to the United States since 2014 seeking protection. Many come fleeing sexual and gender-based violence, gang violence, drug traffickers or cartels, domestic violence, human trafficking, and violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals, violence from which their countries of origin fail to protect them. Others leave because it is unsafe for them to attend school or to work because they live in a gang controlled territory or must cross through one to attend school. Once on the journey, children are extremely vulnerable to rape, and sexual assault, and exploitation by human traffickers, smugglers, drug cartels, gangs, and sometimes even corrupt government officials. Some children ultimately remain in the United States or Mexico, but others may be deported to their countries of origin or choose to return and face a range of challenges and risks upon return.
Carlos*, an 11-year-old from El Salvador, was abandoned by his father, who was later killed by a gang. Carlos was raised and cared for by his mother until the gang began to threaten the family, and ultimately murdered Carlos’ mother. Carlos and his sister fled to Guatemala to stay with extended family. Scared that Carlos would attract the attention of the gangs and threaten the safety of their family, the extended family members decided they could no longer care for Carlos and sent him back to El Salvador. There, he received further threats from the gang and fled to the United States to live with another sister for safety.
Paula’s* neighborhood in Honduras was contested by warring gangs, and when her mother failed to pay one gang’s “war tax,” the gang slid photos of Paula and her little brother walking to school under the family’s door, as an unspoken threat to harm the children. Then, when Paula was only 13 years old, she became a direct target when she persistently refused a gang member’s demands to become his girlfriend. Unwanted advances escalated to stalking, vulgar verbal abuse, groping, and death threats. Meanwhile, a friend of Paula’s who gave in to a gang member’s advances confided that she was drugged at a party and possibly raped. Then, another girlfriend was shot to death in broad daylight in retaliation for breaking up with a gang member “boyfriend” – moments after stopping to chat with Paula. Worst of all, soon after confiding that she was receiving threats from the gang, Paula’s 16-year-old cousin was assaulted outside her school, kidnapped, drugged, raped multiple times over two days, and left naked in her family’s neighborhood. After that, Paula took shelter with family in a remote village, but gang members tracked her down and threatened to kill her grandfather for hiding her. Paula fled Honduras for the U.S. at age 14.
When Angelica* was 14 years old gang members began physically and verbally harassing her outside school on her way home. Angelica told her teachers, who told her they could not help. A few months later, gang members kidnapped, beat, and raped Angelica, releasing her after one week. Angelica was too traumatized to return to school and learned that she was pregnant as a result of the rape. After her daughter was born, the gang member who raped her said he wanted the baby. He forced his way into Angelica’s house, demanded to take the four-month-old baby girl with him, and threatened to kill everyone in the house if they tried to stop him. Terrified, the family relented, and he took the baby. Angelica’s family went to a lawyer who, with the help of the town mayor, enabled the safe return of her daughter. The mayor, however, did not involve law enforcement. The gang member returned again—this time in the middle of the night—again kidnapping the baby. Although Angelica was able to get her baby back, she knows it is just a matter of time before he kidnaps her again. Angelica and her daughter were approved for parole, but their parole was revoked in August 2017. Angelica believes that she and her daughter remain in grave and imminent danger, and they do not leave the house for fear of what might happen to them.
*names changed to protect the child’s identity.
Through our projects, partnerships, and advocacy in Central America and Mexico, KIND aims to ensure children’s rights and protection needs before, during and after migration. Our work focuses in Central America and Mexico focuses on:
- Educating policymakers and the public on root causes of child migration from the region
- Addressing a key root cause of child migration through sexual and gender-based violence prevention programming and leadership training for girls
- Calling on the United States and countries of origin to invest in addressing the multiple root causes of child migration through violence prevention efforts, strengthening education, justice, and child welfare/protection systems, and creating opportunities for children
- Promoting children’s development, well-being and future success in their home countries to make migration a choice rather than a necessity
- Calling for increased access to protection, justice, and fair procedures in transit and destination countries in the region
- Promoting comprehensive return and reintegration strategies that both protect returning children and provide alternatives to their future remigration through services that support family reunification and safety
- Addressing the complex needs of families reunified in Central America after being harmed by forced family separation
- Developing a civil society child migration network in the region
- Building capacity of local civil society organizations in the region
- Elevating Central American and Mexican children’s voices to educate and to inform our strategies and focus.
Child Migrant Return & Reintegration Project (CMRRP)
While many unaccompanied children have viable claims for U.S. protection, some children ultimately chose to return to their country of origin, and others may be required to return, having been found ineligible for protection. Unfortunately, no formal coordination exists for these children to ensure their safety, well-being and continuity of care, nor to address the conditions that caused them to make the dangerous journey to the United States alone. These conditions often remain unchanged upon the child’s return, and yet the child often returns more vulnerable than she was before she left. KIND’s Child Migrant Return & Reintegration Project addresses these needs.
In 2010, KIND, The Global Fund for Children (GFC), and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Guatemala launched a reintegration project to help Guatemalan unaccompanied children returning home due to a deportation or voluntary departure order from the U.S. In 2016, KIND expanded this work to include children returning to Honduras. Returning children struggle to re-enroll in school, resettle into their families and communities, overcome trauma they may have experienced during migration, and make a plan for a safer or brighter future. The Child Migrant Return and Reintegration Project (CMRRP), has served more than 300 returning migrant children and their families. KIND and its partners have helped children by ensuring there is coordination between their caregivers in the US and their families upon return, that they return to their communities safely, and that they receive reintegration services such as family reunification support, skills training, counseling, medical and mental health services, and help with school enrollment and scholarships. Since 2015, less than 5% of children participating in KIND’s CMRRP have re-migrated. Though modest in scale, KIND’s CMRRP serves as a successful model to governments, inter- governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations planning to develop or engage in reintegration services.
ECAP (Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial)
Who is Eligible?
Unaccompanied or separated Guatemalan and Honduran children who have chosen to return home, who have taken voluntary departure, or who have been ordered deported and plan to return to specific areas of Guatemala or Honduras are eligible to participate in the project. Returning children are identified and referred to CMRRP through Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters, KIND’s pro bono legal services network, partnerships with other organizations throughout the country, and Consular Officials. Participation in CMRRP is voluntary and CMRRP staff works closely with each child to ensure his/her involvement, beginning prior to the child’s repatriation, and throughout the different stages of the return and reintegration process. For questions about the CMRRP or to refer a child to the project, please contact:
Emily Kephart: (443) 294-3178
Refer a Child
Referrals can be made as soon as a child receives or decides to pursue voluntary departure, or receives a removal order from the Immigration Court. Referrals should be made no more than 5 business days after voluntary departure has been granted, when possible
To refer a child to KIND’s Child Migrant Return & Reintegration Project please be sure the child meets the referral criteria. Review the project with the child, and obtain authorization to share their information with KIND. Click the button below to access the on-line referral form.
Please be ready to upload the following documents prior to submitting your referral:
- Signed Consent and Authorization Form (required); Download form here
- Child’s birth certificate (required)
- Other supporting documentation (immigration court orders, travel documents, educational records, etc)
Gender and Migration Initiatives
“I can tell a woman that she should report domestic violence, but she will ask me, ‘Who will support me, who will protect me?’ and I can’t answer those questions.”
-Judge, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Amid national attention to the unaccompanied children and families arriving at the US border seeking safety, a vitally important fact is often passed over: that a significant number of children arriving alone are girls, and many are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). In FY2017, girls made up 32 percent of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). These girls undertook the journey to the United States despite the well-known risks of sexual violence, trafficking, and other forms of violence and abuse along the migration route. Many were already fleeing sexual violence in their countries of origin, where they could not find protection or assistance. While there has been increased attention to child migration from Central America, insufficient attention has been paid to the specific needs and experiences of unaccompanied girls who make the perilous journey to the United States.
To respond to the needs of this uniquely vulnerable group, in 2015 KIND launched its Gender and Migration Initiatives (GMI), a new programming area focused on preventing and addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against migrant children. The GMI combines research, policy advocacy, and programming to promote the rights and protection of migrant children, including survivors of SGBV, in all phases of their migration journey.
In 2016, KIND published two reports that show how sexual and gender-based violence, combined with lack of access to justice and protection, drives the forced migration of girls and LGBTI children and youth from Central America. The first report, Neither Security Nor Justice, shows how gangs in Central America have targeted girls and young women, forcing them to live in constant fear of sexual violence and leaving many with no choice but to flee their countries to seek safety. The second report, Childhood Cut Short, documents the forms of sexual violence against migrant children in their countries of origin and transit, and the barriers that survivors of violence face in seeking protection, justice, and support.
In addition to our research, GMI partners with organizations in Guatemala to engage potential and returning migrant children in SGBV prevention programming. Our programming partners in Guatemala are Asociación Pop No’j, Colectivo Vida Digna, and ECAP.
In the first two years of programming we have:
- Engaged over 300 youth in rural communities in Guatemala in SGBV prevention workshops, focused on topics including gender equity, building healthy relationships, and violence and migration
- Engaged over 70 adolescent girls in leadership and empowerment programming. Participants learned skills related to job preparedness, entrepreneurship, community organizing, and advocacy, and shared what they learned with their families and communities.
- Trained 18 primary school teachers to engage their students in age-appropriate SGBV prevention activities and connect students who are survivors of violence with assistance and support. Teachers trained through the program have engaged over 350 elementary school students in SGBV prevention activities.
In 2018 the GMI piloted SGBV prevention workshops with migrant youth in the Baltimore, and Washington DC areas, and we are currently working with Casa Alianza Honduras to expand this programming to Honduras in 2019.
Central American Separated Families Reunification Project
463 of the parents forcibly separated from their children under the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” Policy were deported back to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador while their children, including three and four year olds, remained in the United States. Deported parents were traumatized and worried sick over separation from their children. Some parents had no contact with their children throughout separation in the United States and were deported without ever learning where in the United States their child was located. Some parents wanted their child to be sent back to them as quickly as possible but did not know how to get their child back. Others, while heartbroken over the separation, felt they had to endure the pain of separation at all costs, so they could keep their child safe in the United States, and they worried their child would be deported as they were. Some deported parents themselves have protection needs. They may have had strong claims for asylum that they were prevented from seeking or that were unfair from the start because they were tainted by the profound effects on the parent of forced separation from a child or children.
A father who was separated from his 6-year-old son shared with KIND what happened to him in the U.S.:
“He was very clear that he did not want to be deported without his son and expressed that several times to the immigration offices and pleaded in tears. They told him “vos aqui no mandas nada“…”si tu no firmas nada, yo firmo por ti.” (Here you aren’t in charge of anything…if you don’t sign, I will do so for you).
Building on KIND’s relationships in Central America and its CMRRP and GMI programing in Guatemala and Honduras, KIND developed a project to respond to the unique needs of deported separated parents, and children returning to their parents after having been forcibly separated. KIND launched the Central American Separated Families Reunification Project in summer 2018 to provide a transnational response to these complex cases. Through this project KIND:
- Assists deported parents in locating and establishing contact with their children and their children’s attorney
- Contacts deported parents to determine preferences regarding reunification with their children and communicates parental preferences to the government pursuant to the family separation Ms. L litigation
- Conducts screening of parents for protection needs and refers parents for legal representation as needed
- Facilitates and provides logistical support for reunification of returning separated children with their parents
- Provides ongoing psychosocial support to reunified separated families in Central America to heal familial bonds; To refer a child or family for support services, please use the above referral form for the CMRRP.
KIND’s Partner on the ground: CASM (Mennonite Social Action Committee)
Kids in Need of Defense UK
In only its second year, Kids in Need of Defense UK has changed the lives of numerous children living in the United Kingdom who are eligible for British citizenship and protection, but had no way to access it. Reaching children in London, the Midlands, and Scotland, Kids in Need of Defense UK has:
- provided legal representation to 143 individuals
- achieved 97 individual grants of citizenship or leave to remain
- achieved 100% success in all cases where we have had a decision
- trained almost 500 lawyers
- engaged 181 lawyers each working on one or more cases
Kids in Need of Defense UK is working with 13 law firms and with attorneys from Microsoft. Baker McKenzie LLP and Skadden LLP have recently joined, and many more firms are eager to join. It is also working to expand its work at Coram Children’s Legal Centre.
KIND is launching a new effort to address the humanitarian crisis in Europe of unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children by increasing the provision of legal services. Using KIND’s pro bono model in the United States, we will work closely with established law firms, corporate legal departments, legal practitioners, a variety of organizations, and current initiatives throughout Europe to share KIND’s experience in helping thousands of children through pro bono representation in the United States.
The crisis in Europe has left hundreds of thousands of children on the move, in or on the edge of Europe, unaccompanied by parents or guardians. Most have fled traumatic situations in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia, are alone and frightened, and are unable to protect themselves. They are shockingly vulnerable to abuse, neglect, violence, trafficking, smuggling, and exploitation.
Many of these children are eligible for protection and guardianship, and perhaps also for asylum, but have no way of knowing this, much less how secure their rights. Unable to get information from trusted or reliable sources, these children are extremely vulnerable to smugglers and human traffickers. The full spectrum of access to justice responses are needed to meet the legal needs of these children, including private sector pro bono legal services, to enhance restricted legal aid. But a still evolving pro bono culture across Europe has meant that pro bono has had a limited role in serving unaccompanied and separated children.
KIND’s initiative in Europe will help change that. Building on our experience in developing collaborations with the private sector and non-governmental organizations in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Central America to generate pro bono representation for children, KIND will bring new resources and expertise to ongoing efforts on behalf of children on the move in Europe.
KIND will serve as an incubator for a variety of pro bono projects. In 2019, KIND will launch collaborations between local legal services partners and private sector pro bono lawyers in pilot sites in Europe. We will provide technical assistance and build on current partnerships with our pro bono partners. KIND will connect with ongoing and new pan-European initiatives working to help children on the move. Through this effort, we hope to help these children find stability and safety in their host countries in Europe and the protection they need and deserve.