The current crisis at the southern U.S. border has been all over the news as thousands of unaccompanied children have been apprehended. This crisis is yet another reminder of why we need comprehensive immigration reform and why immigration is a feminist issue.
While the majority of children apprehended at the border are boys, the number of girls is increasing at a startling rate. While from 2013 to 2014, the number of boys detained at the border rose eight percent, while the number of girls rose 77 percent, increasing from 7,339 to 13,008. This year, 40 percent of children at the border were girls, up from 27 percent last year.
These girls and boys are all fleeing violence, extreme poverty, and high murder rates in their home countries. In addition to those threats to their security and wellbeing, women and girls also face gender-based violence.
There has been an increase in incidents of gender-based violence in Central America in recent years. Rates of femicide (the targeted, systematic killing of women and girls), sexual violence, kidnapping, forced disappearance and unjustified detention are on the rise in the region, causing thousands of women to flee Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico due to their well-justified fear of being raped, murdered or tortured.
Most of the unaccompanied girls apprehended at the U.S. border this year came from Honduras, where the pandemic of gender-based violence is particularly severe. Rates of gender-based violence in Honduras rose sharply after the 2009 coup d’état and during the subsequent regime of Porfirio Lobo. Between 2002 and 2010, the rate of femicide increased 257 percent and, today, the second most prevalent cause of death of women is gender-based violence.
Other countries in the region are seeing a crisis of gender-based violence, as well. In Mexico, the rate of femicide has risen 40 percent in the past eight years. In addition to the 50,000 women murdered, 250,000 have been displaced and thousands have been “disappeared”. On Mexico’s border in the state of Chihuahua, from 2007 to 2010 the femicide rate rose 1,000 percent. The female murder rate in Chihuahua is currently 15 times the global average.
A 15-year-old girl who fled El Salvador testified to UN interviewers that “In El Salvador, they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags.”
Carolina, a mother from El Salvador, brought her two daughters on the treacherous journey of over 1,100 miles north to the U.S. border. Carolina feared that if she stayed in El Salvador, her daughters—a 14-year-old and a 5-year-old—would be raped by gang members. She said: “They rape them, then they cut their throats… And if we try to rat them out or go to the police, they’ll kill us.”
Immediately apprehended by border patrol upon her arrival, she and her daughters must wait to see if the court will grant them refugee status in the U.S., or whether they will be deported.
As Carolina’s story demonstrates, violence against women in Central America is rampant, and law enforcement is often more a part of the problem than the solution. Over 95 percent of violent crimes against women in this region will go unpunished, and a 2012 report noted that “government officials and their security forces were often the worst perpetrators of sexual violence used to ‘intimidate and subdue’ those who come forward with charges against men in positions of power.” The incidence of police abuse of women is particularly severe and widespread in Honduras.
Attempting to leave the region to seek a better life comes with its own risks as well. During dangerous journey to get to the U.S. border, the majority of women will be sexually assaulted. (Many take injectable contraceptives beforehand to prevent pregnancy.)
So the next time you hear about the immigration crisis in the news or read about it in the paper, remember to think beyond the border of the U.S. and keep in mind the reasons behind this influx of young migrants. Remember that immigration is a feminist issue.
Women and girls make up 51% of those immigrating to the United States; as such, we need an immigration process that ensures women have equal opportunities to emigrate and succeed. Get involved by signing our petition asking Congress and President Obama to pass fair immigration reform that takes women into account.