Head Smacker: Taking Blaming the Victim to New Lows


August 29, 2014

headsmacker_sqCentral American Children Seek Refuge from Violence;Some in Congress Say The Children are the Threat

Children fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have been streaming into the U.S. and other nearby nations. Some members of Congress who oppose funding services for them have simply wanted to deny children entry and to swiftly deport those who make it across the border. They have their reasons. Representative Denham (R-CA) worried about “some type of health epidemic” they might bring.  Representative Rokita (R-IN), a little hazy in his geography, even speculated that they might bring Ebola. And Florida Representative Rich Nugent (R-FL) was inclined to define them out of being children at all. On a radio talk show in July, he said “A lot of these children … quote-unquote … ya know, the first caller mentioned it, ya know, they’re gang members. They’re gang affiliated…When you have those types coming across the border, they’re not children at that point. These kids have been brought up in a culture of thievery. A culture of murder, of rape. ”

Yes, well, that is what they are escaping from. The largest number of children apprehended at our border from October 1, 2013 through May 31, 2014 came from Honduras. There were 13,244, up from 6,740 the previous year. In the period through last May, nearly 3,600 of those children were age 12 or younger, up from almost 1,350 in 2013 (Among all Central American countries, Guatemala is second, with 11,449 children; 9,835 children fled El Salvador over the same period).

Whether or not there is a “culture of  murder…” in Honduras, as Rep. Nugent opined, there is a lot of it. It’s got the highest murder rate in the world: 90.4 per 100,000 people in 2012, according to the U.N Office on Drugs and Crime. And some cities in Honduras have even higher rates, as this graph shows. By contrast, Detroit has a murder rate of 54.6 per 100,000, and that’s more than ten times the U.S. average.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of Honduras children seeking refuge here come from these very violent cities in Honduras – take a look at the next chart. Tegucigalpa is the capital; San Pedro Sula is the second largest city.

Children apprehended at border

Neither is it surprising that so many young children are fleeing Honduras. Large numbers are trying to escape before they are forced into gangs or trafficking. Not every child crossing the border is fleeing violence. But the threat is rampant enough that each child deserves an opportunity to be heard in court.

If there is a competition for most egregious effort to blame the victim, Rep. Nugent and some of his colleagues are head-smackingly in contention.

While President Obama asked for emergency funds to meet the growing need, Congress did not approve any before leaving for their August recess. The House approved far less funding than the President had sought, almost all of it for more border enforcement. Very little was for services for the children. And they separately passed legislation to drop the current requirement that children arriving from Central America are assessed in court to see if they should remain here because they have fled dangerous conditions and would be subject to threats if they had to return. Senate Republicans blocked a bill with more funds, and with far more for services provided by the HHS Administration for Children and Families, and most Senate Democrats oppose ending current legal protections for Central American children. So nothing happened. The Administration has diverted funds to pay for sheltering the children and the work of transferring them to families in the US while they await a court hearing. There is no requirement that legal counsel is provided, although volunteers often provide those services. They will need more money from Congress to avoid dipping too far into funds meant for other refugees.

If you want to encourage Congress to live up to humanitarian standards, both by keeping current protections intact and by funding services these children need, here’s an email you can send.  

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