Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) visited the formal and informal refugee camps and shelters in Tijuana, Mexico during the week of December 12, 2018 to look at the conditions that unaccompanied children are facing and their ability to access U.S. protection. We found children living in squalid conditions, in grave danger, fearful, and suffering greatly while waiting to be allowed to present at the port of entry. We learned that unaccompanied children are systematically being prevented from applying for protection in the United States, a significant violation of U.S. and international law.
KIND saw what has now become a classic refugee situation – but lacking significant protections that are a minimum in most refugee camps around the world. Children are languishing in dangerous and unsanitary makeshift camps. There is no running water and in some cases, irregular access to food. We saw 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. 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.
Beyond the physical conditions, we found that the U.S. government was not allowing the very few unaccompanied children who were able to reach the U.S. border to apply for asylum and turning them back to Mexico, a violation of U.S. and international law. The Mexican government for its part 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.