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UN Protection Officer: 'This Is Not A Migration Story. This Is A Humanitarian Crisis.'

As a United Nations protection officer explained to National Journal last month, the 90,000 children flooding our border is not an immigration story.
UN Protection Officer: 'This Is Not A Migration Story. This Is A Humanitarian Crisis.'
Image from: John Moore/Getty Images

Republicans have been trying to blame President Obama for the humanitarian crisis on our southern border, but as a United Nations protection officer explained to National Journal last month, the 90,000 children flooding our border is not an immigration story.

Virtual cities of children are fleeing their homes. This is a lot bigger than U.S. border control, a United Nations protection officer explains.

The numbers are astounding.

Just a few weeks ago, the United States was projecting 60,000 unaccompanied minors would attempt to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year. That projection is now 90,000, and it may be surpassed.

Virtual cities of children are picking up and fleeing El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—some of the most dangerous places in this hemisphere. In Washington, the story has stoked the longstanding debate over border policy. But U.S. immigration policy is just a small part of this story. Yes, the U.S. immigration system is now bottlenecked with the influx, prompting emergency response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But changing U.S. border policy won't stem the root of the exodus.

"The normal migration patterns in this region have changed," Leslie Velez, senior protection officer at the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, explains. These people aren't coming here for economic opportunity. They are fleeing for their lives.

Earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees surveyed 404 children from Mexico and Central America who arrived in the United States illegally, and asked a simple question: Why did you leave? The report found "that no less than 58 percent of the 404 children interviewed were forcibly displaced" to a degree that warranted international protection, meaning that if the U.S. refused these children, it could be in breach of U.N. conventions.

Go read the rest of the interview. They do a good job going into a number of the root causes behind this flood of children fleeing their homes, but I wanted to highlight one more portion which directly counters the narrative we've been hearing from Republicans:

[Q]: In the wake of these trends, some lawmakers have called on increased southern border security for Mexico. What do you make of that?

[A]: I think that's a knee-jerk reaction, which is not entirely inappropriate. But any conversation about increasing enforcement of other countries at points south has to include protection from sending people back to where they fear persecution or torture.

[Q]: I've been reading that these children are coming north on rumors that the United States will let them in, that the Obama administration has lax policies toward minors. Did you find that at all in your survey?

[A]: We interviewed 404 children asking extremely open-ended questions as to the reasons and the nature of having left and what they were expecting when they arrived. Out of the 404, only 9 of them mentioned any kind of possibility of the U.S. treating children well. Two said "immigration reform"; one said "I hear they treat kids well." It's very general and from the perspective of a child. But only nine out of 404 said anything about that.

And another on the media here in the United States:

[Q]: What is the American media getting wrong about this story? Or, what's the take-home point we miss?

[A]: This is not a migration story. This is a humanitarian crisis, and an example of consequences of weak governments. It's a humanitarian crisis and a foreign policy issue. We're responding in a humanitarian way, and supporting the government to do so, but that's not going to shut off the faucet.

The normal migration patterns in this region have changed. While it is still a mixed migration flow—people are still coming for a number of reasons. There is a growing number of people who are literally fleeing for their lives.

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