More funding promised to Central American child refugees, Lee warns of new influx

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Immigrants who have been detained while crossing the border, thousands of which who are often unaccompanied.
AP photo by Rick Loomis

Thousands of Central American children fleeing drug wars and poverty are overwhelming the San Francisco nonprofits who care for them, but new information from the mayor shows this may just be the beginning.

Yesterday, just hours before Supervisor David Campos' resolution to bolster funding to aid the incoming refugees passed, Mayor Ed Lee warned the Guardian and other journalists that San Francisco is bracing for another influx of even more children in need.

“I met with the federal Health Service System to prepare our city for the possibility of a higher influx [of refugees],” he said. “The numbers seem to be coming in, though they haven't reached us yet.”

Campos’ measure to focus funding on the needs of Central American child refugees passed by unanimous vote, likely because its sorely needed. Nonprofits in San Francisco like the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and other sounded the alarm: there are too many refugees, and not enough caregivers and legal aid to help them. More than 36,000 Central American children (often unaccompanied) entered the US illegally between Oct. 2013 and May this year, according to widely reported federal data. The number of Mexican children entering the US dropped to about 17,000. 

But why are they coming here? Many reasons, but mostly they’re fleeing violence. Honduras, for instance, was the murder capital of the world, with 79 people murdered in every 100,000, according to Reuters. Neighboring El Salvador didn’t do much better, with the second highest murder rate per capita in the world. 

"I am from Honduras and I just turned 16-years-old," a teenager named Juan said, in a statement from CARECEN, "I came after my father was murdered and I feared for my life that I was next. If I go back I'm not sure that I can go back and live a good life. I want to go to school and live so I can grow up to do something good."

False rumors in Central America that the US is offering permisos, meaning, permanent status, also spurred an influx of refugees. 

CARECEN's Washington D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco locations are advocating for President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency and aid these refugees. But as the federal government grasps at possible solutions, local government is stepping in to help those reaching the city. 

“There’s a long history on this board on calling out against injustices we’ve seen in different parts of the world,” Campos said at the board yesterday as he introduced his measure, adding “They’re escaping not just political turmoil but violence in their lives.”

“These are children,” he said. 

Lee said one of the biggest challenges in helping these children may be a cultural one.

“I’m trying to wrap my arms around the fact that many of these kids don't speak Spanish,” Lee told the Guardian yesterday. “They speak Mayan and different languages. This will test our cultural competency.”

Campos is planning a hearing on how best to focus funding to aid the child refugees, but hasn’t yet settled on a date for said hearing.