The Biden administration has been urged to “stop sending children into harm’s way” by deporting thousands of unaccompanied migrant children back to Mexico in the midst of a rise in arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers at the US border.
According to Amnesty International, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has seen 95 per cent of unaccompanied Mexican children apprehended by US Border Patrol agents between November 2020 to April 2021 deported back to their home country.
“That is more than 10,000 Mexican children, many of whom were fleeing violence or persecution in their home states and were trying to unite with their family members in the United States,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in an online statement.
President Donald Trump would have been in power for nearly half of the time in question, with his successor President Joe Biden taking office on 20 January.
However, Amnesty International has accused the US government of continuing to return thousands of children back to their home countries, including Mexico, “without ensuring they can return safely”.
In a recent report, the organisation found that the Biden administration had quickly expelled thousands of unaccompanied Mexican migrant children without conducting adequate screenings to determine whether they might be eligible for protection in the US.
Amnesty suggested that while Mr Biden had vowed to stop expelling unaccompanied minors from the US, Mexican children appeared to be the exception.
The organisation has also taken aim at the Mexican government for overseeing the return of migrants and asylum seekers to their home countries, with many coming from “Northern Triangle” countries, which include Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
“Despite promising that his government would not do the United States’s ‘dirty work’ when he campaigned for office, President López Obrador has militarised Mexico’s border regions to stop the families and children fleeing from violence and poverty in Central America’s ‘Northern Triangle’ from reaching the United States,” Ms Guevara-Rosas wrote.
Amnesty’s warning comes after the Biden administration sent top officials to Mexico, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, to discuss the influx in arrivals at the southern border.
The DHS had outlined plans for Mr Mayorkas to “meet with his counterparts in the Government of Mexico on areas of mutual interest”.
However, Ms Guevara-Rosas said: “Tragically, these ‘areas of mutual interest’ include the mass deportations of unaccompanied children into harm’s way.”
In a statement last month, human rights organisation Human Rights Watch warned Mr Biden against “leaning heavily on Mexico to prevent migrants from traveling to the US southern border”.
“Former President Donald Trump pushed this policy farther than ever before, resulting in horrific abuses as Mexico responded to the pressure by bolstering its detention and deportation machinery. Biden should not follow in Trump’s footsteps,” Human Rights Watch said at the time.
“If he intends to partner with Mexico on immigration, Biden should work to enhance Mexico’s capacity to protect refugees and to provide humane alternatives for all migrants,” the organisation said.
In a statement sent to The Independent, a spokesperson for the US Customs and Border Protection agency, which encompasses the US Border Patrol, said agents “screen all unaccompanied children for signs of human trafficking and fear of returning to their country of last habitual residence”.
“In cases of suspected human trafficking or claims of fear, Border Patrol refers the unaccompanied child to the Department of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security Investigations, as appropriate,” the CBP spokesperson said.
“in cases where there is no suspicion of human trafficking or claim of fear, unaccompanied children that are Mexican nationals are processed for voluntary return to Mexico,” they said, adding: “Unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries are transferred to Health and Human Services consistent with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.”