Showing Pakikiramay in a Crisis

By Rhodora Derpo

Immigration Attorney

Immigrant Rights Advocate


This is the first installment of a two-part series (look for Part Two next month) regarding the humanitarian and refugee crisis involving migrant children arriving in the United States from Central America.

Filipinos are imbued with the cultural trait of pakikiramay – a trait that is rooted in our ability to show sensitivity, sympathy, and compassion in a crisis. The ability to empathize with others, with aid and generosity in times of need, however, is not a trait that embodies just the Filipino community. When super-typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) wrecked the Central Visayas, destroying tens of thousands of homes and killing at least 6,300 people in the Philippines, pakikiramay principles were at work as the international community responded immediately by contributing to recovery efforts.


The humanitarian and refugee crisis involving migrant children arriving in the United States from Central America is another opportunity to employ the value of pakikiramay. The United States should provide assistance because the child migrants are fleeing a war that our country helped create; that is, gang violence fueled by our country's consumption of illegal drugs.


Some politicians in Congress are framing the arrivals of migrant children as the result of our immigration enforcement policies, such as the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that President Obama initiated on June 15, 2012, which grants eligible unauthorized youth a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit. But they are wrong. Tom K. Wong, at the Center for American Progress, conducted a statistical analysis to examine the reasons behind the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border. The results suggest that it is not DACA or other immigration enforcement policies that are the impetus for the children's journeys. Rather, the complex root causes of violence in Central America (particularly Honduras) as well as the demand for illegal drugs in the United States that is fueling that violence are the reasons that these children are fleeing their home countries and seeking refuge in the United States.

Who are the migrant children?

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 57,525 unaccompanied children were apprehended between October 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014. These children came primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico.

Many of the children come for economic reasons, but a vast majority of them are fleeing gang violence, persecution, trafficking, abuse by smugglers, and sexual violence. Mr. Wong found a positive relationship between violence and the flow of children.


For example, the homicide rate per 100,000 people stood at 90.4 in Honduras, 41.2 in El Salvador, and 39.9 in Guatemala. See 2012 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). To put it in perspective, the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo has a homicide rate of 28.3 per 100,000 people, and nearly half a million refugees have fled that country.


Sonia Nazario's Op-Ed article in The New York Times, "The Children of the Drug Wars: A Refugee Crisis, Not an Immigration Crisis," notes that, "Gangs arrived in force in Honduras in the 1990s, as 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha members were deported in large numbers from Los Angeles to Central America, joining homegrown groups like Los Puchos. But the dominance in the past few years of foreign drug cartels in Honduras, especially ones from Mexico, has increased the reach and viciousness of the violence. As the United States and Colombia spent billion of dollars to disrupt the movement of drugs up the Caribbean corridor, traffickers rerouted inland through Honduras, and 79 percent of cocaine-smuggling flights bound for the United Stats now pass through there."


José Arnulfo Ochoa Ochoa, of World Vision International, a Christian humanitarian aid group, further notes that if we are to send these children back to the dangerous conditions of their home countries without first properly determining whether they have legal defenses to removal, we are effectively "handing them a death sentence." Indeed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently interviewed 404 children who had arrived in the United States from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico; and, 58% of them said their primary motivation for leaving was violence. These children are not just seeking refuge in the United States. The number of asylum claims in other nearby countries has sharply increased bet The United States should adequately provide legal relief for those migrant children fleeing gang recruitment or persecution. These kids are entitled to a fair hearing and deserve to have their day in court.

Contact my firm if you have questions about your immigration-related case. Nagsa-salita po ako ng Tagalog.


Stay tuned for the second part of the series, which will examine the legal defenses to removal available to migrant children.


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