Deported to Death

(Neon Tommy/Flickr)

(Neon Tommy/Flickr)

On Saturday the New York Times published an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof on the manifold crises threatening Central American refugee children, describing how President Obama and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto have joined forces over the past two years to stem the tide of desperate children fleeing a war-town region:

In effect, we have pressured and bribed Mexico to do our dirty work, detaining and deporting people fleeing gangs in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. This solved a political crisis that Obama faced with refugees in 2014, but it betrays some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The American-Mexican collusion began in 2014 after a surge of Central Americans crossed into the U.S., including 50,000 unaccompanied children. Obama spoke with Peña Nieto ‘to develop concrete proposals’ to address the flow. This turned out to be a plan to intercept Central Americans near Mexico’s southern border and send them home.

Washington committed $86 million to support the program. Although Obama portrayed his action as an effort to address a humanitarian crisis, he made the crisis worse. The old routes minors took across Mexico were perilous, but the new ones adopted to avoid checkpoints are even more dangerous.

Back in March, Human Rights Watch published a report on Mexico’s ongoing practice of denying asylum to all but less than one percent of child refugees, even as the number of refugees apprehended keeps rising. Mexico detained more than 35,000 Central American children last year alone, representing a 55 percent increase over the previous year. “These refugees are then typically deported to their home countries — which can be a death sentence,” Kristof writes. Together the United States and its neo-colony to the south have shipped 800,000 people back to Central America in the last five years, including 40,000 desperate and vulnerable children.

Kristof doesn’t exaggerate when it describes deportation as a “death sentence.” An investigation conducted by the Guardian last year found that three Honduran men who sought asylum in the United States — Angel Diaz, José Marvin Martínez, and Juan Francisco Díaz — were murdered in their hometowns just days after being deported. A second study reveals that, since 2014, 83 Central Americans have been killed following their deportation by the United States; it’s reasonable to assume that the death toll has risen since the study released its initial findings last fall.

“These sobering statistics should be reason enough for the Obama administration to stop and examine a practice that has led to so much bloodshed,” Kica Matos wrote in the Hill earlier this year:

Instead, the administration is doing the exact opposite, moving forward aggressively to implement its plan to ramp up deportations. Their targets? The estimated 100,000 immigrants who have fled here since January 2014 to avoid being killed, raped or tortured.

I’m not sure where Ms. Matos found that estimate. By its own count, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has apprehended at least 109,000 unaccompanied children fleeing the chaos of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras since October 2013. That’s only the kids, and only those caught by Border Patrol. Add to that the number of children who weren’t caught, the number of adults who were caught and who weren’t — plus the number of Central Americans who simply never made to the U.S. border — and you begin to realize the full scope of the crisis. “The estimated 100,000 immigrants” is likely closer to 300,000 refugees in the last three years, if not more. Let’s hope it isn’t.

In case you’ve forgotten, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has endorsed this very policy of sending child refugees back to their shattered homelands. When asked in 2014 how she’d address the refugee crisis, Hillary replied coolly as ever:

We should do more to provide border security in southern Mexico … [and the unaccompanied children] should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who the responsible adults in their families are.

One such child, a 16-year-old girl, was released by the Department of Homeland Security into the waiting arms of a man pretending to be the girl’s cousin. He was actually a sex trafficker, who then repeatedly raped the girl.

Who’s ready for Hillary?

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Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and journalist. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.

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