U.S. Customs and Border Protection has launched a $1 million media campaign aimed at discouraging more children from making the treacherous journey to the United States without a parent or guardian.
CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced the Dangers Awareness Campaign on Wednesday in South Texas, where Border Patrol agents have been overwhelmed by the recent influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. More than 52,000 children have been apprehended at the border since October.
Families need to understand that the journey north has become much more treacherous and there are no permisos for those crossing the border illegally, Kerlikowske said. Children, especially, are easy prey for coyotes and transnational criminal organizations and they can be subjected to robbery, violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking or forced labor.
As part of the campaign, about 6,500 public service announcements will run in Spanish on radio and television stations in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Hundreds of billboards will also go up, including one that says, I thought it would be easy for my son to get papers in the USA I was wrong.
Here is one of the videos that will air:
The campaign also includes local media events that will be held in metropolitan areas with high concentrations of Central Americans, such as Houston, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York and Miami.
The intent of the campaign is to warn about the dangers migrants encounter when traveling from Central America to the U.S. Many migrants from Central American often make the long journey to the U.S. by riding on top of La Bestia, a train that runs from south to north Mexico. Many have died falling off the train, while others have been robbed, raped or kidnapped along the way.
The campaign will also underscore the dangers posed by the harsh terrain and weather conditions that migrants face when trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. So far this year, Border Patrol agents have identified more than 220 deaths along the Southwest border, including 34 water-related deaths near the Rio Grande River in South Texas.
The most recent death was that of Gilberto Ramos, a 15-year-old boy from Guatemala whose decaying body was found in the Texas desert on June 15. His mother, Cipriana Juarez Diaz, told the Associated Press her son wanted to go to the U.S. to earn money to help treat her epilepsy.
Will the campaign work?
Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), told VOXXI she agrees with the campaigns overall message that the journey to get to the U.S. is very dangerous. However, she questioned what kind of impact the campaign will have in discouraging children from making the treacherous journey.
We dont disagree with the message, but I do wonder about the impact because this is really a refugee emergency and people dont flee their home country and the kind of violence theyre experiencing in Central America unless theyre in fear for their lives, she said.
Youngs group has done extensive work in analyzing why so many children are coming to the U.S. without a parent or guardian.
In February, KIND released a report that cited the increasing violence in their home communities and a lack of protection against this violence as the main reasons why so many children have left their home countries for the U.S.
The report also noted that the U.S. projected 60,000 unaccompanied minors would attempt to enter the country this fiscal year. That projection is now 90,000, and it could increase even more.
Its not normal for kids to leave their home, so its a signal that something is terribly wrong at home, Young said. We need to focus on that because thats the problem, not try to tell people stay home and be killed.
To better address the influx of unaccompanied minors, Young said the Obama administration should adopt a comprehensive approach that includes offering people the opportunity to apply for protection in the U.S. without having to leave their home countries. This is often referred to as in-country processing.
She also recommended that the administration work to beef up the asylum and child protection systems in countries, like Mexico, that children cross as they make their way to the U.S.
Furthermore, Young said children should be given access to an attorney so they can better articulate their fear of returning home. And for children who dont qualify for protection and are deported to their home countries, Young said the U.S. should ensure they are returned to a safe place.
Bottom line, we need to make sure that kids have a true opportunity to remain home and be safe, she said. But we also have an obligation to protect those who cant access the protection at home.