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Timeline - 2014

The plight of unaccompanied children at the border

When 60,000 unaccompanied children crossed the border into the United States from Central America in the summer of 2014, the International Rescue Committee sought to find out why.

Throughout its history, the International Rescue Committee has come to the aid of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution, war and civil conflict. IRC staff members and volunteers have helped tens of thousands of refugees resettle in the United States and begin new lives free of fear.

So when some 60,000 unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America crossed the U.S. border in the summer of 2014, the IRC joined the effort to ensure that they were treated humanely and their rights protected.

In July and August, the IRC launched a fact finding mission to Texas and Arizona to better understand the root causes of the flight and the problems that were hampering the U.S. government’s response.

The mission concluded, among other findings, that systemic violence, especially gang violence and violence targeting girls, was driving young people from their home countries. The mission also urged federal authorities to extend services and care for traumatized children while they are in the U.S., regardless of the outcome of their immigration process.

From the beginning of the crisis, the IRC emphasized that the majority of the children might qualify as refugees and should be guaranteed the right to claim asylum and other protections enshrined in international law.

The IRC also helped mobilize public opinion for extending humanitarian protection to children once they are in the U.S. IRC staff members gave written testimony to Congress and IRC supporters flooded legislators’ offices with pleas to vote against a proposed rollback of protections for unaccompanied children in the immigration system.

In a message on the eve of the vote, IRC President David Miliband said, “There are legal obligations at stake but there is also a strong moral imperative. We must not send children fleeing violence back into harm’s way.”

The rollbacks were defeated. Although attention to the plight of the children has faded, the IRC remains committed to their welfare. The IRC recently sent a delegation to Honduras to better understand the causes and potential solutions to the crisis afflicting children there. And it is offering support services to children who have been released from detention into communities in the U.S.