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Understanding the Immigrant Children Phenomenon at the Border

Since October of 2013, the United States Border Patrol has been dealing with an odd and difficult situation as thousands of children have turned up unaccompanied at the southern border. Most of these children are from the Central American “Triangle of Death,” which consists of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Why are these immigrant children arriving en masse at the border, and how should the U.S. government respond?
To understand this odd and comfortless situation, it helps to remember that many sociopolitical experts believe the Central American Triangle of Death is a result of the U.S. War on Drugs. The majority of children arriving at the border come from impoverished families who live with the specter of gang violence and corruption.
The U.S. has been providing support in the form of military training, weapons and money to the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for decades. In the 20th century, this support was provided because Central America was a major proxy battleground of the Cold War; in the 21st century, fighting drug cartels has become the U.S. pretense to arm government forces in Central America.
About three percent of the unaccompanied minors who cross the border are from Mexico, a country that has been ravished by the War on Drugs in the last few years. In a way, these children are a desperate reaction and politically-charged response to dubious U.S. foreign policy; they are claiming refugee status, and their families are telling the U.S.: “Look at what you have done; we are poor, desperate and besieged by the violence you created.”
There’s also a loose interpretation of a legal framework that was enacted during the administration of former President George W. Bush: The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act, which aims to alleviate the negative impact of immigrant smuggling. Under this law, children from countries other than Canada and Mexico who cross the U.S. border unaccompanied cannot be deported at once; they must be given temporary and adequate shelter until their situation can be assessed and sorted out, which could take a while. For other information about family law immigration, click here.

The White House has thus far been following the Bush-era policy on handling these child immigrants; however, it has become obvious that there is an urgent need to update the law in this regard.

Have other immigration questions? Contact San Diego’s expert immigration lawyers by visiting our website at or reach out to an attorney directly at 858-874-0711.

May 2024