REYNOSA, Mexico (AP) — Before 14-year-old Brian Duran set out from central Honduras in mid-April, he heard that child migrants who turned themselves in to the U.S. Border Patrol were being cared for and not deported.
He knew that a couple of friends who left before he did had given themselves up after crossing and been reunited with family in the U.S. Sitting inside the walled compound of a migrant shelter in this Mexican border city across the Rio Grande from Texas, Brian wonders if that is still the case as he seeks a way to make his own crossing.
"I don't know what the environment is like now, if they (Border Patrol) are supporting or if they are returning the minors," he said Tuesday. He said he has an uncle in the U.S., but doesn't know where because he lost his number while journeying north.
Brian isn't alone in trying to get into the U.S. In the past eight months, 47,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended along the border in the U.S. Southwest.
More than 11,000 of those were Mexican children, who are generally quickly sent back across the border. But nearly 35,000 were from the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. By contrast, just 6,560 child migrants were put in U.S. shelters during all of 2011.
President Barack Obama called the surge a crisis Monday, saying the influx has overwhelmed the network of U.S. shelters for young migrants. He appointed the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, to lead the government's response. The Obama administration has asked Congress for $1.4 billion in extra funding to help house, feed and transport child migrants and has turned to the Defense Department to temporarily house some of them.
Detained youngsters are transferred within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement to be housed in shelters until they can be reunited with parents or guardians. Officials then begin searching for relatives or other potential guardians in the U.S. The average stay for a child in a U.S. shelter was 45 days last year. Most are reunited with family to wait for their immigration cases to move forward.
A variety of reasons put young migrants on the path to the U.S.
"The children don't only travel because of poverty or reunification. In a recent study we have detected that another important theme is migration because of insecurity," said Julia Gonzalez, coordinator of the nonprofit National Bureau for Migration in Guatemala.
A study released in March by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said about half of 400 kids interviewed reported they had experienced or been threatened with serious harm. About 300 of those interviewed were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — countries that accounted for about 90 percent of the children cared for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement last year.
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