- The Human Rights of Children in an Age of Mobility
2014: Child Migrant Crisis
During the Central American Child Migrant “Crisis” of Summer 2014, tens of thousands of often unaccompanied minors streamed across the US-Mexico border.1 The country of origin was usually not Mexico, but Central American countries, predominantly Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, places scarred by endemic violence and recent spikes in gang warfare. The children indicated that they were fleeing violence—either coercive invitations to join gangs or violent retribution if they refused to cooperate.2
Their arrival in the United States was met with alarm. The media expounded at length on the dangers of the journey, the porosity of national borders, the dangers faced by the children, the probable confusion and incentives created by the Obama administration’s immigration policy, and the (lack of) welcome the children encountered upon entering the United States.3
The children’s “welcome” was ambivalent and contradictory: uncomfortable and inhospitable4 Federal immigrant processing shelters that seemed inimical to child development and welfare;5 “fast-tracked” unrepresented deportation hearings that gave little time or credence to the children’s stories of desperate flight; congressional hearings—blaming the President’s too-ready use of executive orders to assist the Dreamers and invoking sentiments of outraged invasion; Homeland Security actions to deport the children while pursuing the “best interests of the child” by reuniting them with US-based relatives; and pressure on Central American countries and Mexico to stem the flow.6
The US polity was no less ambivalent than the country’s political leaders: “How desperate or uncaring must the parents be,” said some, “to send their children unaccompanied into the unknown?” “Pursuant to our values and laws, we must welcome and protect them,” said others. “What does this mean for the (lack of) security of our border with Mexico, and the ineffectiveness of the Border Fence? If children can cross the border surreptitiously, so can terrorists,” countered yet [End Page 787] others.7 Residents of some towns blocked the passage of buses attempting to deliver immigrant children to shelters located in those municipalities, while immigration practitioners in the United States coordinated a nationwide response aimed at representing the children in deportation and other administrative proceedings.8
In light of the Child Migrant “Crisis” of Summer 2014, Jacqueline Bhabha’s 2014 book, Child Migration & Human Rights in a Global Age, could not be more timely and relevant, especially considering that such events may repeat in 2015.9 Throughout the book, she presents, often in a comparative perspective: historical and current situations, legal frameworks, fundamental principles and, more subtle and invisible, but potent, procedural or administrative instruments. She also considers contradictory policies that allow the reader to ponder and more fully address questions such as: Who are these mobile children? What do they want from us? How should we treat them?10 The thematic focus and enduring questions posed by Bhabha also resonate through the causes of and responses to the summer 2014 Child Migrant Crisis as well as the subtopics on the issue of the human rights of children addressed in this timely and nuanced book.
While Bhabha offers an enriched and thought-provoking analysis of migration flows, her subject is broader than child mobility and the human rights of migrant children. Eschewing the media-favored stories of good guys versus bad guys, she vigorously and perceptively engages with universal tenets, questions, and uncertainties relating to the human condition.
Although the book was published before the events of the summer of 2014, Bhabha historicizes the summer’s panic about invading, border-crossing immigrant children. She makes clear that the flow of unaccompanied migrants across the border is not a new phenomenon of the US border ecosystem.11 Instead, there is a close, even if unacknowledged, relationship between the border enforcement mechanisms employed by the United States and other countries and the dangers to which children are subjected in willing or coerced migration journeys.12 [End Page 788]
This review is organized as follows: a summary...