Ian Gordon

Ian Gordon

Copy Editor

When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Three-Quarters of Mexican Child Migrants Have Been Caught at the Border Before

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mexican child migrant map
Pew Research Center

While the focus of the recent border crisis has been on unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, thousands of Mexican kids also have been apprehended trying to cross into the United States since last fall. According to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center, the vast majority had been caught several times before—and 15 percent of them reported having been previously apprehended six times or more.

The US Border Patrol made more than 11,300 apprehensions of unaccompanied Mexican child migrants from October 2013 to May 2014. Among the kids picked up, 76 percent said they'd been caught "multiple times before," according to the Pew report, which is based on data provided by Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the map above shows, 64 percent of Mexican minors crossing alone came from six states: Tamaulipas, Sonora, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Guanajuato, and Michoacán.

Currently, child migrants from Mexico (and Canada) can be deported shortly after apprehension, unlike kids from elsewhere, who are reunified with US-based family while their immigration proceedings are pending. As I wrote last month in a post about why the federal government shouldn't change the law to more easily deport Central American kids:

When an unaccompanied Mexican child is apprehended by the Border Patrol, agents are supposed to screen him within 48 hours. Specifically, they are supposed to determine three things: (1) whether the child has been the victim of trafficking; (2) whether the child has a fear of returning to Mexico; and (3) whether the child is able to voluntarily make the decision to return home. If the screening reveals that the child hasn't been trafficked, isn't afraid to go back, and can make the decision by himself, then he can be sent back.

In practice, says the ACLU's Sarah Mehta, "when they're happening, the screenings are inconsistent, but often they're not happening." Some agents don't speak Spanish; in other cases, Mehta says, kids have reported not being asked any questions at all, or being told by agents that they can't get deportation relief for whatever they experienced at home or along the way to the United States.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a UN Refugee Commission report claimed that more than 95 percent of Mexican children caught at the border by themselves in fiscal 2013 were returned to Mexico. If Mexican kids do have legitimate asylum claims, they're likely not being heard, advocates claim. And when these kids do get sent back, many try to cross again.

Here's another Pew chart, this one showing the numbers of unaccompanied child apprehensions by country of origin since 2009:

child migrants over time
Pew Research Center

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Mexican Government: Freight Trains Are Now Off-Limits to Central American Migrants

| Sat Jul. 12, 2014 1:20 PM EDT

On Thursday, a freight train derailed in southern Mexico. It wasn't just any train, though: It was La Bestia—"the Beast"—the infamous train many Central American immigrants ride through Mexico on their way to the United States. When the Beast went off the tracks this week, some 1,300 people who'd been riding on top were stranded in Oaxaca.

How do 1,300 people fit on a cargo train, you ask? By crowding on like this:

Central Americans on the Beast, June 20 Rebecca Blackwell/AP

After years of turning a blind eye to what's happening on La Bestia, the Mexican government claims it now will try to keep migrants off the trains. On Friday, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said in a radio interview that the time had come to bring order to the rails. "We can't keep letting them put their lives in danger," he said. "It's our responsibility once in our territory. The Beast is for cargo, not passengers."

The announcement comes on the heels of President Obama's $3.7 billion emergency appropriations request to deal with the ongoing surge of unaccompanied Central American child migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. Many Central Americans take the trains to avoid checkpoints throughout Mexico—and the robbers and kidnappers known to prey on migrants. But riding the Beast can be even more perilous. Migrants often must bribe the gangs running the train to board, and even then, the dangers are obvious: Many riders have died falling off the train, or lost limbs after getting caught by its slicing wheels.

Why, though, hasn't the Mexican government cracked down sooner? Adam Isacson, a regional-security expert at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, says the responsibility of guarding the trains often has fallen to the rail companies—who usually turn around and argue that since the tracks are on government land, it should be the feds' problem. (Notably, the train line's concession is explicitly for freight, not passengers.)

In his radio interview, Osorio Chang also signaled a tougher stance against Central American migrants, in general. "Those who don't have a visa to move through our country," he said, "will be returned."

For more of Mother Jones' reporting on unaccompanied child migrants, see all of our latest coverage here.

Watch the Ads Obama Is Airing in Central America to Keep Kids From Coming to the US

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 5:59 PM EDT

Preparing for his dangerous trip north, a Central American teen stops to pen a letter to his uncle in the United States. He writes that his mom is telling him to think hard about the risks: the gangs on the trains, the cartels that kidnap migrants, the days of walking through the desert. But those roadblocks, he writes, are worth it: "I see myself earning a bunch of money in the United States, and my mom here without any worries."

So begins a new public service announcement aimed at keeping Central American kids from joining the tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants who have been apprehended by US authorities in the last year. The PSA soon turns dark, though: After the teen says goodbye to his mother, and his uncle puts down the letter he's been reading, the camera pulls back from a close-up of the boy, dead on the desert floor. A narrator urges viewers: "They're our future. Let's protect them."

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) developed the TV ads, as well as posters and marimba-infused radio spots, as part of its million-dollar Dangers Awareness Campaign. Rolled out shortly after Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Guatemala in June, the campaign is an attempt to counter rumors that unaccompanied kids will be allowed to stay in the United States. The ads emphasize that the journey is extremely dangerous and that children won't get legal status if they make it across the border.

The campaign will run for 11 weeks, CBP spokesman Jaime Ruiz told the Associated Press. "We want a relative that is about to send $5,000, $6,000 to a relative in El Salvador to see this message and say, 'Oh my God, they're saying that the journey is more dangerous,'" Ruiz said. "We try to counter the version of the smuggler."

Here's the other televised PSA, in which two silhouettes—a would-be migrant and a smuggler—discuss heading north, the smuggler turning increasingly aggressive and his shadow occasionally turning into that of a coyote, the slang word for a smuggler:

(Notably, CBP created slightly different versions of each of the stories for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the three countries that have sent the most unaccompanied minors to the US. Watch them all here.)

This type of campaign isn't anything new. For years, the Mexican government has produced ads about the dangers of walking through the Arizona desert, and several years ago the Department of Homeland Security, as part of CBP's Border Safety Initiative, distributed CDs to Latin American radio stations with sad songs aimed at slowing immigration from the south. With so many variables at play, it's virtually impossible to measure their effect.

But with more than 57,000 unaccompanied kids apprehended in the United States since October—a situation that CBP head R. Gil Kerlikowske called "difficult and distressing on a lot of levels" when speaking to members of the Senate homeland security committee on Wednesday—the government seems willing to try anything.

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