Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern on the Situation of Children Migrants Arriving to the United States

June 20, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the situation of unaccompanied children migrants that are arriving to the southern border of the United States of America. In this regard, the Commission recognizes President Obama’s pronouncement of this as an “urgent humanitarian situation” as well as the additional high-level governmental efforts to provide humanitarian relief to these children.

According to publicly available information, between January 1 and May 31, 2014 the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended a record number of 47,017 unaccompanied children migrants along the southwest border of the United States. This number represents an almost 50% increase to-date from last year. Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, previously estimating the arrival of 60,000 unaccompanied child migrants in 2014, have revised the figure, now expecting as many as 90,000. Of the 47,017 children apprehended thus far in 2014, the vast majority (46,188) are from the countries of El Salvador (9,850), Guatemala (11,479), Honduras (13,282), and Mexico (11,577), with the remaining (829) from other countries.

A recent report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), entitled Children on the Run, found that of children surveyed from Mexico and Central America who were in an irregular migratory situation in the United States, 58% indicated that they were “forcibly displaced” due to: violence by organized armed criminal actors, including drug cartels and gangs; domestic abuse; and in the case of Mexico, forced recruitment into human smuggling networks.

Publicly available information indicates that, once these children arrive to the United States and are apprehended by the authorities, many of them are being kept in CBP detention for a longer time period than the established 72-hour maximum. Further, the Commission has received troubling information from human rights organizations about abuses suffered by children while in detention, including insufficient food and water; overcrowded and unsanitary holding cells and facilities; and a lack of blankets, mattresses, and clean bedding provisions; in addition to over one-hundred reports of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse by agents towards children filed in a complaint by NGOs against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In response, Commissioner Rosa María Ortiz, Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, said, “I call upon U.S. authorities, media outlets, and society in general to view these children migrants as children, first and foremost. The vulnerabilities and risks they face for being children and migrants at the same time requires that the United States ensures that the principle of the best interests of the child and the principle of the family unity are primary considerations in all policies, laws, proceedings, and measures related to these children. Children migrants should receive that comprehensive protection that has repeatedly been promised to them and is still not reflected in policies, laws and practices on migration.”

Along the same lines, Commissioner Felipe González, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants of the IACHR and country Rapporteur for the United States, also stated that, “We are dealing with a humanitarian crisis involving record numbers of migrant children on the southern border of the United States, but also in other countries of the region. Through on-site visits and hearings, we have seen that our children are dying or being victims of several forms of violence in many parts of the region, and in this context there are some children who have been able to flee from these forms of violence, both inside and outside of their countries. This situation is a ticking bomb and requires that States ensure the right to migrate, the right to seek and receive asylum, the principle and right of non-refoulement and the right to not be forced to migrate. Tackling the underlying issues that cause forced migration, such as inequality, poverty, human security, and corruption, will require a coordinated, regional response in order to create common policies centered on the protection of the human rights of children migrants.”

The Commission considers that, at present, the primary obligation of the United States is to properly screen children migrants to identify those children that might require international protection or have other special needs for protection and to provide full access to such mechanisms of international or complementary protection. Further, given that the push and pull factors in the region that could be behind this mixed migratory flow are complex, such as high crime, poverty, lack of safety, and on the other hand, better safety, lower crime, and higher quality of life, the Commission recommends that the countries of the region develop human rights-based migration policies that address these factors and prevent the causes the causes of forced migration. Lastly, as established in its Report on Immigration in the United States: Detention and Due Process, the Commission reminds all of the States in the region that the detention of a child due to his or her irregular migratory situation constitutes a violation of the rights of the child and is always against the principle of the best interests of the child.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 67/14