By Dusty Murphy

On Wednesday, March 23 a number of groups including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), First Focus, National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) held a briefing on the impact of ongoing raids by U.S. immigration, the Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE), as well as the issue of how we are dealing with unaccompanied minors.

Panelists discussed the conditions faced by families in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), where organized crime and violence are high.  Marielena Hincaple stated that Honduras held the title of murder capital of the world from 2011 until El Salvador took that spot in 2015.  El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide, broadly defined as the killing of women.  She stated that what we are seeing in response to these families fleeing the violence in the Northern Triangle is that of a “hemispheric bias,” as families in similar situations in other parts of the world are considered to be refugees.  Louis Malfaro spoke about the need for more bilingual educators, more counseling services for the children, and an increased trust in the police, which can be beneficial to the entire community as people who trust the police are more likely to speak out when a crime is committed.  Unaccompanied minors, underage youth entering the U.S. alone have experienced dramatic increases in recent year.  Ten years ago the number of unaccompanied minors averaged around 7,000 children while in the numbers surged to more than 57,000 in 2014.

The briefing included remarks by congressional cosponsors Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).  Sanchez spoke about the separation and breaking up of some families and the potential for abuse resulting from immigration enforcement.  Representative Lofgren focused some comments on the accompanied minors issue stating that this issue is not an immigration issue, it is a refugee issue.

Panelists made a number of requests including greater legal protections for children that enter the country as unaccompanied minors along with dealing with the issue as a humanitarian crisis, as these children are coming to the United States to escape violence.