In the last decade, children and young families have become the face of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Tens of thousands of children have made the life-threatening journey from their countries alone; families have often come with small children—all to escape the violence from which they have no protection. No one wants these children to make this dangerous trip, or to see children torn from their mother or father’s arms. We want these children to be safe. More and more children and their families from Central America are making the trek to the United States, however, risking grave danger, as their desperation for a chance to be safe grows. Smugglers, traffickers, and other criminals often take advantage of this desperation among migrants, particularly unaccompanied children.
What can we do to protect children and minimize their risks? Current laws provide a strong framework for protection, but there is a movement to thwart these laws, as some people argue, without evidence, that the laws designed to protect children create incentives for exploitation by migrants. This briefing paper takes a closer look at that claim, examining how current policies that seek to block the entry of children and asylum seekers contribute far more to the humanitarian crisis at the border than existing laws designed to protect children. If anything, those laws need to be strengthened, and our humanitarian commitment to children renewed—just the opposite of what is happening today.