Mary Scully

Unknown | 5/09/2014 |
Child immigration

Credit : Photo of unaccompanied minor immigrant children from coyotelegal.com

One of the most prominent features of neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism, is the massive dislocation of millions of people thrown off their lands by relentless expropriations, forced into squalid city slums, unable to find work, & reduced often to homelessness or forced to migrate for work. Lost in this tsunami are millions of orphaned or abandoned children. Hundreds of thousands of these children join adults on long, dangerous treks to find refuge in other countries. In the last several years, the growth of unaccompanied minors attempting to immigrate without visas has increased astronomically on all the established routes across this planet: from Zimbabwe to South Africa; Egypt to Italy, Morocco to Spain; sub-Saharan African countries to Israel & European countries; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, India to Greece or Australia; Mexico & Central America to the US; Russia to Sweden. 

An unaccompanied minor is defined in law as under 18-years of age but children considerably younger are often reported traveling in caravans or singly. When you compare the pietisms about the welfare of children embodied in international law to the barbarisms of immigration practices in all the destination countries, the crirminality toward children stands out in neon & is an international scandal. Unfortunately most of these "civilized" regimes are immune to shame & must be exposed & pressured into addressing the particular needs of immigrant children--whether with their families or unaccompanied.

It is safe to assume that orphaned or abandoned children forced to migrate on harrowing routes are traumatized, malnourished, unhealthy, & have been victims of sexual & physical violence, economic & criminal exploitation. In just one example, the children of Zimbabwe have to get through razor wire fences & cross a crocodile-infested river to get to South Africa. Providing immigrant children with social services would be the first priority of a civilized society. Not only is this commitment to child welfare enshrined in international law but it's often formalized in immigration legislation. 

But the fact is that countries appear to compete in the barbaric treatment of unaccompanied children. Those countries most involved in colonial plunder have the worst immigration policies of all. In that regard, France, Australia, the UK, & the US excel. Racism, of course, is the very staple of those policies. Frontex, the immigration control agency of the European Union, actually claims families send unaccompanied children under false pretexts as forerunners to "trigger the family reunification process." 

Instead of necessary social services, immigrant children are placed in detention centers for indefinite periods of time. In Australia, detention is mandatory & according to an independent inquiry, "cruel, inhumane, & degrading" to children. In Greece & South Africa, the centers are usually over-crowded, filthy, lice-infested places with inadequate food, no medical care, & place children with unrelated adults of mixed gender. In France, special detention zones have been established for immigrant children right in the middle of the country but declared neutral territory in order to deprive them of rights under French immigration law. Some detention centers in the US are abandoned military bases, some are gymnasiums with mattresses flopped on the floor; none of them have proper facilities for the care of children, especially traumatized children.

Immigration laws in most countries provide unaccompanied children a guardian advocate to guide them through the asylum process. That looks good on paper but it is mostly ignored in practice or circumvented in conniving ways. In many places, the "advocate" is employed by immigration with a commitment to deportation. Children speaking different languages have no possible way to maneuver through the labyrinth of immigration laws without professional legal counsel & advocacy. However, immigration law, not child welfare legislation, determines whether the child will receive asylum or not. Children are not a protected class under immigration laws & must prove, just like adult immigrants, that they would suffer harm from deportation. To prove status as minor children, they are often required to provide original documentation of their age or be assigned to adult detention facilities & eventually deported. Many of the children are in fact refugees & should be granted protected status but without strong legal advocacy they cannot access this right under law. Child welfare demands open borders without a single impediment to providing human services to immigrant children.

One remarkable thing about the reporting on unaccompanied minors is vagueness on why children immigrate. If child welfare was a priority, there would be statistics in every country based on entry interviews with the children held in detention centers. Why did they risk so much? What forces impelled them? In place of that, we're told it was to escape family violence, civil conflict, criminal gangs--all of which might be true but does not sufficiently elaborate on what compels children to endanger their own lives & leaves most of their stories untold. Children may very well not understand the economic & political forces operating on their lives but interviewers could certainly figure that out if they bothered to interview the children. It's so much safer for neoliberal plunder to operate in the shadows. 

Certainly the most damning & criminal aspect of child immigration is that the majority of children are denied asylum & deported--sometimes back to their country of origin & sometimes to another country where they do not speak the language. Sometimes they are deported to custodial care, other times they are simply dumped with no regard for child welfare. Putting children back in war zones, dumping rural children in unfamiliar cities, leaving them without provisions for adult care, housing, education, survival puts them directly in harm's way & is nothing short of criminal endangerment.

The only way the treatment of unaccompanied child immigrants, & immigrants in general, will be ameliorated is through massive campaigns in favor of immigration rights. This requires familiarity with immigration practices in our own countries & exposing the criminal & egregious violations of child welfare & human rights. 

Immigration is a human right! No human being is illegal! Open the borders!


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