GAO Issues Report on Agency Response to Migration of Unaccompanied Children from Central America
The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) recently published a report regarding the increased migration of unaccompanied alien children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The report focused on the responses of officials from the Department of State (State), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These officials relied on first-hand interviews, meetings with government agencies and non-governmental organizations, and various data and information sources. GAO conducted a similar study regarding progress of U.S. agencies in Central America in 2013, but this most recent study was targeted toward the increased migration of unaccompanied children.
Since 2012, the Customs and Border Protection has apprehended a growing number of unaccompanied alien children at the U.S.-Mexican border, increasing by more than 50 percent each year. In the past, the majority of such children were Mexican nationals. However, in 2013 and 2014, the percentage of unaccompanied alien children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras increased to 75 percent. The report noted that the increase of migration can be attributed to a variety of factors: crime and violence, particularly gang and drug trafficking; economic concerns, such as the coffee rust fungus destruction of coffee production; educational concerns, including low quality and limited access of education; family reunification, together with misinformation regarding U.S. immigration policy.
While State, USAID, and DHS have had programs in each country to help address these causes since before 2012, GAO reports that each agency is developing new programs and modifying prior programs to address better the rapid increase in migration. State and USAID noted that those agencies were able to draw upon existing funds, such as by shifting mission resources, in developing and modifying programs. New programs vary from a public outreach radio campaign (to address misinformation concerning U.S. immigration policy) to the introduction of coffee rust-resistant seedlings (to address poverty and economic concerns). Because crime and violence is a major cause of increased migration, USAID reports a new program in El Salvador to provide rehabilitation services to youth who have had conflict with the law. DHS has begun implementation of Operation Coyote, which operates in all three countries, to combat criminal organizations involved in the smuggling of unaccompanied alien children.
Modifying programs requires the agencies to shift priorities to address more effectively the rapid increase in child migration from these three countries. Modified programs include a municipal policing project in Guatemala and extension of a program targeting education improvements in Honduras. In particular, USAID has been providing crime prevention programming in high-crime municipalities in Guatemala and will be extending the programming to the Western Highlands communities of Guatemala in response to the rising violence levels in that area.
The report also noted the need for additional cooperation with each country’s government. USAID reported the need to understand the governments’ capacity to accept repatriated children. DHS noted that local cooperation can help identify the flow of migrants across borders and combat criminal organization who operate outside the country.
These new and modified programs provide increased opportunities for organizations and companies to partner with government agencies in these Central American nations. Organizations currently working in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras will likely see a renewed effort by the United States to provide aid, funding, and training to locals. While each agency outlined how these programs would help address the underlying causes of increased child migration, the agencies also recognized that many of the causes are complex and deep-rooted. As a result, partnership with external organizations will prove important to create the change the United States hopes to achieve.