SNN: Schools, Agencies Working to Help Almost 100 New Immigrant Students
Somerville, Mass.– Teachers and counselors are helping almost 100 new students adapt to their new lives in Somerville and in the Somerville Public Schools. The children are likely unaccompanied minors who arrived in the U.S. over the past eight months during the uptick of unaccompanied minors crossing the border last spring and summer.
“It’s a little hard for us to track exactly because there are privacy [issues] and we don’t want to ask families exactly what they’ve been through, but what we can tell is that we have 89 documented cases since last spring of students coming and of that, about 63 students are at the High School,” Anne Herzberg, counselor at the Somerville High School, told Somerville Neighborhood News during an interview at the SCATV studio.
About 1,200 undocumented youth came to the state over the past eight months, according to Alex Pirie, Coordinator of the city’s Immigrant Service Providers Group/Health. The U.S. Border Patrol says it picked up a total of 66,000 unaccompanied minors between October 2013 and August 2014.
U.S. law guarantees children from “non-contiguous” countries, like Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala, the right to apply for asylum. Border Patrol must release them to a shelter within 72 hours if the minor decides to apply. He or she is given a court date and then sent to a shelter or to the home of a family member – if one can be identified – in order to wait for that date.
Herzberg knows many Somerville residents who have agreed to take in nieces and nephews.
“There’s this great woman who’s been spending a lot of time with me recently,” she said. “She already had one son at the high school. She moved last spring from the south. And now suddenly has four other teenagers living with her. She’s been really generous, taking in her brothers and sisters kids and really giving them a great home, but [she] is really struggling as well, with all these new mouths to feed.”
When national media outlets noticed an uptick in the number of youth crossing the border last summer, some newspapers and television news programs attributed the increase to rumors of automatic legalization or free schooling. A few minutes of research, however, reveals that the causes are structural, and that some of them are rooted deep in history.
“These are countries that are under tremendous stress. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are the principal countries,” Pirie said. “We have in Somerville a lot of El Salvador families, so we’re getting more from that demographic.”
“In these countries, the U.S. has actively – starting with the Dulles brothers and United Fruit* and on into the present – destabilized these countries, has supported dictatorial regimes, [and] has trained ‘death squad’ members at the School of the Americas, which is run by the American military, so we have an enormous track record of making these countries very inhospitable,” Pirie noted.
Pirie noted that as immigrant gang members are deported, they often form lethal gangs in their home countries.
“An export from the U.S. is the MS-13 gang, which came out of the California penal system,” he said. “This gang is now very adult, very violent in El Salvador.”
Pirie said that a Somerville resident recently told him that a family in El Salvador who receives regular remittances (money sent home) from its Somerville family member was told they would have start handing over a percentage to MS-13.
“MS-13 had been to her house and said, ‘We want a percentage of that money coming back or we’ll start shooting your children one at a time,’ and they do this. They’re not kidding around,” he said.
In fact, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador were three of the five most dangerous countries in the world in 2012, according to U.N. statistics. Honduras, where a recent coup d’état – decried by almost all countries in the hemisphere except for the U.S. – had the world’s highest per-capita homicide rate in 2012: 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. El Salvador came in #4, with 41.2 homicides per 100,000, and Guatemala was fifth, with a rate of 39.9 homicides per 100,000 people.
“These families are desperate,” Pirie said. “These families have been attacked and persecuted in their home countries so they’re not just coming for a free ride… They’re leaving sinking ships and are terrified.”
Kids and women with children who don’t have relatives are held in family detention centers, some of which have terrible conditions, according to recent reports.
Note: All of the children will need to appear in immigration court and this can sometimes mean an expensive airplane ticket back to Texas. Caregivers need to change the court venue to a location nearby and prepare for the hearing. Catholic Charities is offering free legal advice… in English or Spanish, for anyone hosting a child. Call Attorney Santos Flores at 617-464-8125.
Also: The Somerville Public Schools are looking for bilingual volunteers who can serve as homework helpers, mentors and counselors to the city’s newest residents. Please contact Anne Herzberg at the Somerville Public High School or go online.
* Allen Dulles, former president of United Fruit, headed the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) from 1953 to 1961. His brother was Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In the 1940s, United Fruit owned almost half the land in Guatemala. During that period, the C.I.A. fomented and helped overthrown the progressive government of Jacobo Arbenz, which hoped to undertake land reform. Following the coup d’état, the C.I.A. installed a government but many organizations and sectors of the population did not accept the new regime. Between 1954 and 1990, human rights groups estimate, the army and other forces aligned with the military regimes murdered more than 100,000 civilians. Former Guatemalan leader Efraín Ríos Montt, an army general who also served as president in 1982 and 1983, and whose government was supported by Washington, was recently found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity in Guatemalan court. It was “the first time that any head of state has been convicted of genocide in a national court,” according to Human Rights Watch. The ruling was overturned but a new trial is slated for 2015.
To learn more, check out these reports:
From the Center for Public Integrity – http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/10/02/15861/life-and-death-struggle-asylum-america
From the Center for American Progress – http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/report/2014/07/24/94396/the-surge-of-unaccompanied-children-from-central-america-root-causes-and-policy-solutions/
Murder rates –