CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS ON THE BRINK
Long before the pandemic broke out, accompanied or non-accompanied migrant children and adolescents were already travelling across the Americas. Between 2014 and 2018, the continent witnessed a so-called “crisis of migrant children” that led to the separation of families and the unacceptable detention of Central American children in cages in the United States. Latin American children, primarily Ecuadorian, Mexican, and Central American, were already migrating to reunite with their migrant parents in the United States or to flee violence from their countries of origin. Due to the massive Venezuelan exodus, Venezuelan migrant children traversed the south-south routes within the region. They were often stranded between border crossings, faced forms of discrimination and xenophobia, or had become informal workers on the streets of South American destination countries. Before the pandemic, Latin American migrants were already separated from their families, lived in detention centers and migrant shelters in the United States and Mexico and faced deportation hearings in U.S. courts alone. They were deported mostly from Mexico and the United States, transited alone or accompanied through clandestine routes, and were stranded in border areas waiting to be recognized as asylum seekers.
Due to internal anti-migrant reinforcement, by the time the United States deemed health emergency, 7,000 migrant children were living in detention centers alone and another 3,300 were living with their parents in detention. These children do not live in sanitary conditions. In fact, several dozen children have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, during the pandemic, many others have had to face deportation hearings on their own.
The Trump administration has reduced the number of recognized refugees, including migrant children, and hastened their deportations to Mexico or to their countries of origin. Since April 2020, 400 migrant children have been deported to Mexico every two weeks. In addition to those deported, there are also migrant children stranded on the US-Mexico border. Due to exceptional measures adopted by the United States, Mexican and Central American migrants prevented from applying for asylum in the United States have been left in a legal limbo, aggravating their risky conditions in violent contexts. This is the reality of at least 17,000 undocumented migrants stranded on that border. Within Mexico’s migration stations, Mexican and Central American children are exposed to the risk of contagion due to overcrowded conditions and to riots that have occurred as a result of fear of contagion.
In South America, Venezuelan migrant children and their families transit back to Venezuela and are exposed to multiple forms of violence, such as the militarization of borders and unhealthy conditions that pose a risk of contagion. In the confined spaces between various South American borders (Ecuador-Colombia, Brazil-Venezuela, and Chile-Bolivia), migrant youth are exposed to illegalities and violence and to unhealthy conditions on a daily basis, and therefore have a high risk of contagion.
Before the pandemic, migrant children and adolescents in the continent already experienced violations to their right to have a family, to not be exposed to situations of violence and risk, to the right of refuge and international protection, to grow up in a safe environment, to education and healthcare, and to special protection. The pandemic has revealed the extremely risky situation Latin American migrant children live through today as they are confined to living and growing up on the edge.
The discussion will focus on the intolerable and extreme circumstances impact the lives of South American, Central American, and Mexican migrant children and adolescents before and during the pandemic. Given the current crisis of state care, we will also reflect on the responsibilities of states of origin as well as destination, transit, and civil societies have on transnational policies in regards to an extremely vulnerable population, specifically, on the lives of Latin American children and adolescents.