America’s Refugee Crisis

Just this year, 57,000 unaccompanied minors entered the United States illegally through the U.S.-Mexico border. The majority come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – far distances to travel on foot, especially for mere children. Many arrive only a few hundred miles south of Carnegie in places like Brownsville, Laredo, and in between. So close to home, we must ask: who are these migrants?

Take the story of Cristian Omar Reyes, who plans to trek over 1,500 miles to the United States from his hometown of Tegucigalpa, in Honduras. Earlier this year, his father was killed by a gang while protecting a pastry truck as a security guard. Three other people he knows were murdered this year, and four were gun-downed around the corner the week after New Year’s Day. There was a girl Cristian’s age found across the street from his house once; she was killed for resisting being mugged $5.

Cristian Omar Reyes, 11. (Photo: Sonia Nazario)

Cristian Omar Reyes, 11. (Photo: Sonia Nazario)

His background is far from unique for millions of children in parts of Latin America. An Al Jazeera op-ed writes about children in nearby Guatemala, suffering the same feats due to drug cartels and local gangs. Many parents give extravagant sums to smugglers that help their children travel to America. These are not children exploiting laws to make money. These are children trying to survive.

President Obama recognizes this to some degree, and coined last month’s rhetoric by referring to this undocumented child migration issue as a “humanitarian crisis.” Governor Perry has said the same and surprisingly stated that he stood with the President philosophically on the issue. This is one of the few times, though, that Perry shouldn’t agree with Washington.

Children like Cristian Omar Reyes are escaping violence from conditions that would by any formal definition of the term be called refugees. The humanitarian crisis on the border is a refugee crisis, and should be treated as such. Both Washington and Austin have failed to recognize how grave the crisis is.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees interviewed 404 children from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico and found that 58% of these minors fled their countries primarily because of violence. The United Nations unequivocally concludes that “the U.S. and Mexico should recognize that this is a refugee situation.”

Refugee crises are dealt very differently in international law then illegal immigration, and for good reason. The United States needs to recognize the intense nature of the current situation and its uniqueness from other illegal immigration concerns. President Obama and Governor Perry should take immediate actions that don’t include mass deportation and excessive border security. Humanitarian crises call for humanitarian action. And frankly, our leaders currently aren’t doing it.

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