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    The horrors driving thousands of Central American kids to take the dangerous journey to the U.S.

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    Before the 15-year old girl said goodbye to her uncle on that early April night, before she crossed El Salvador's border, before she negotiated the serpentine and danger-studded road north, she thought of plastic bags. And whether she, like the others, would end up inside one.

    A local gang member had said he "liked" her, she told the United Nations refugee agency. And in a country like El Salvador, where gangs recruit in schools, target girls for "sexualized killings" and have pushed the state to the brink of collapse, getting "liked" by a gang member is the last thing anyone would want. "The guy who liked me was going to do me harm," she said. "In El Salvador, they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags." Her uncle took her aside and told her she must flee — so she did....

    "In El Salvador, there is a wrong — it is being young," a young boy told the Women's Refugee Commission. "It is better to be old."

    Read the full article in the Washington Post.

    A Humanitarian Crisis, Not a Political One

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    Jennifer Podkul, senior program officer, migrant rights & justice program, was one of six experts invited to participate in a New York Times "Room for Debate" on "How to Stop the Surge of Migrant Children." Read Jennifer's contribution. Read the entire debate here.

    Voices: Why deportations won't stop the border deluge

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    REYNOSA, Mexico – It took Brian Soler Redondo seven months to get from his home in Comayagua, Honduras, to this city on Mexico's northern border with Texas.

    Along the way, the 14-year-old hitchhiked, walked for miles, dodged thunderstorms, jumped from a moving train to avoid roving gangs, had his money stolen by unscrupulous border police, witnessed a pregnant woman thrown under a train and killed, begged for bus fare, and felt more hunger, thirst, fear and fatigue than most people feel in a lifetime.... 

    Sending so many back has done little to discourage the steady flow of migrants, many of whom are fleeing rampant violence or economic despair in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The threat of being deported from the U.S. pales in comparison to a looming gang kidnapping or the prospect of another day without dinner.

    "You can close the door of a burning house, but people are just going to jump out the window," says Michelle Brané of the Women's Refugee Commission. 

    Read the article in USA Today.

    Obama Border “Surge” Restarts Family Detention, Fast-Tracks Deportation Of Children

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    President Barack Obama on Monday made two major immigration-related announcements that rights groups and immigration advocates say are not only incongruous but could violate multiple international rights obligations….

    On the other hand, the president formally pushed lawmakers to grant him some $2 billion in additional border-enforcement funding, as well as new authorities to significantly speed up a deportation process that has already reached record levels under the Obama administration.

    “The fact is there is no way to humanely detain families,” Michelle Brane, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, a rights group, told journalists on Monday.

    “Further, using detention as a deterrent is a violation of international law and has never been shown to work … International law also doesn’t allow [victims of violence] to be sent back to their tormenter. Yet the U.S. government is not mentioning that these children need protection.”

    Read the article on MintPress News.

    Children at the Border Raise Question of Who Is a Refugee

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    Many of the children and families arriving at America's southern doorstep, overwhelming shelters and navigating an already clogged system, are fleeing unrelenting violence or economic destitution.

    But does that make them refugees? Not in the eyes of the law....

    "The overall focus on stemming the flow and reinforcing borders along with this very strong message to children and families that they should not come because they will sent back really raises concerns of violations of international law," said Michelle Brané, director of the migrant and justice program at the Women's Refugee Comission, a non-profit.

    She said one of the basic tenets of refugee law, solidified after the Holocaust with the Refugee Convention, forbids rendering of a true victim of persecution or torture to their persecutor.

    Read the article on NBC News and watch the second video clip.

    Refugee Nonprofit Says Influx Of Minors Has "Nothing To Do With Immigration Reform"

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    The thousands of unaccompanied children from arriving at the Texas-Mexico border have become the latest pawns in the political battle over immigration reform, that's according to the nonprofit Women's Refugee Commission, who says this not a problem unique to United States.

    Michelle Brané, director of the migrant rights and justice program with the Women's Refugee Commission, said everyone on Capitol Hill and beyond are trying to politicize the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors that are coming to Texas from Central America....

    "It's a refugee-like situation," Brané said. "People are fleeing a situation in Central America, and so we can't just deal with the problem here, we need to deal with this regionally. We need to look at what's happening in those three countries, why is it happening just in those three countries."

    Read the full article from Texas Public Radio.

    Hundreds Of Millions In U.S. Aid, More Detention Centers Planned To Deal With Border Crisis

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    Under fire over a growing tide of Central Americans, including thousands of unaccompanied minors arriving across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Obama administration plans to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the nations from which the migrants are coming, and to create more detention space to hold them.


    Michelle Brané, Director of Migrant Rights & Justice Programs at Women's Refugee Commission, urged the administration in a statement to the press to consider alternatives to detaining families with children....

    "When we visited the Hutto facility in 2006, DHS claimed the facility was specially equipped to meet families needs and would put an end to the separation of families in detention," she said. "Instead, we found babies in prison jumpsuits, families sleeping in cells with open-air toilets, highly restricted movement and only one hour of recreation per day. Detainees were subject to alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats to separate children from their parents. After public outrage and lawsuits, that facility was closed for families."

    Read the full article on Fox News Latino.

    DHS to Hold More Immigrants, Biden Meets Leaders on Border Crisis

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    The Obama administration said Friday it would detain families arriving at the border and announced investments in Central America to stem the flood of unaccompanied children also coming here. Meanwhile Republicans demanded the president deploy the National Guard.

    ...Michelle Brané's organization, the Women's Refugee Commission, helped expose problems at Hutto. Babies were kept in prison jumpsuits, families had to use open-air toilets and children were disciplined with threats of being taken from their parents at the for-profit, privately-run facility, she said.

    "Plain and simple, family detention is an awful and damaging process. It profoundly and irreversibly affects the physical and mental health of children and breaks down parent-child relationships," Brané said in a statement.

    Read the NBC News article

    Fear Is Driving Young Men Across the U.S. Border

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    The day of his first kidnapping, Wander's life cleaved in two. Before it, he was a middle-class kid living in a humid, mountain-flanked Honduran city. Growing up, he had a live-in maid, attended private school, and enjoyed a modest but steady flow of new clothing and electronics. After graduating high school, he drove a bus for his mother's transportation company. Then, on the morning of June 12, 2009, when he was 19, a quartet of masked men approached his black Toyota Corolla, ordered him to exit, and shoved a pistol against his skull.


    In 2012, the Women's Refugee Commission, a research and advocacy group, conducted field studies to examine the causes of this unprecedented influx. Of the 151 young immigrants interviewed, nearly 80 percent said that violence was the main reason young people were fleeing their countries.

    "It's push factors, not pull factors," said Jennifer Podkul, a senior program officer at the Women's Refugee Commission. "These countries are losing a generation."

    Read the full article in The Atlantic.

    Why so many migrant children are braving the journey across the U.S. border alone

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    Jennifer Podkul, senior program officer, Migrant Rights & Justice program, appears in this PBS Newshour report about why children are fleeing Central America.

    Watch here.

    Conditions slowly improve in Nogales for migrant children at border

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    NOGALES, Arizona – The conditions are slowly starting to improve for nearly one thousand unaccompanied migrant children sheltered at an impromptu holding center here, officials said Tuesday.

    The children now have access to catered food, onsite showers, medical facilities for vaccinations and a makeshift laundromat after being shipped from overflowing detention facilities in Texas over the weekend, Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino told msnbc.

    Some advocates argue that the heightened border security has had the opposite effect, with a focus on enforcement rather than stemming the problem at the source in the countries the children are escaping.

    "It's really trapping kids in a burning house," Jennifer Podkul, senior program officer at the Women's Refugee Commission, told msnbc. "If they do have legitimate concerns, they should have access to a place that's safe."

    Read the MSNBC article.

    Surge of children fleeing gang recruitment in Central America creates crisis in U.S. shelters

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    The surge of children fleeing gang recruitment in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to seek asylum in the U.S. and other countries is a crisis comparable to Africa's child soldiers, a United Nations official said Tuesday.


    "The demand for coming is so exorbitant that it makes it ripe for smugglers and traffickers to take advantage of the situation," said Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at Women's Refugee Commission.

    Read the article in the New York Daily News.

    Short-Term Border Facilities Holding Some Child Migrants Too Long

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    The federal government is scrambling to house a surge of unaccompanied Central American children and teenagers apprehended crossing the border illegally, many in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.


    "Border Patrol stations were not designed for any kind of long-term custody," said Michelle Brané of the Women's Refugee Commission in Washington, D.C. "They are completely ill-equipped to deal with anybody long term, and they are particularly inappropriate for children to be in for any length of time."

    Brané said such facilities have no showers, beds or recreation areas.

    Read the full article in Fronteras.

    More undocumented children arrive in Arizona in DHS bid to relieve crowding

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    The Women's Refugee Commission is cited in this CNN report on the uprecedented number of women and children fleeing violence in Central America and coming to the U.S. 

    70,000 Kids Will Show Up Alone at Our Border This Year. What Happens to Them?

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    IN A DOORLESS desert safe house in northwestern Mexico, the drug traffickers sized up the boy—17 years old, 1,700 miles from home, gay, alone—and asked if he was too scared to strap on a load of marijuana and walk across the border into Arizona.

    The kid—I'll call him Adrián—paused to consider his options. He didn't have any. Okay, he told them. He'd do it.

    A Women's Refugee Commission report is cited in this Mother Jones article about the surge of chidlren fleeing violence in Central America and seeking safety in the United States.


    Crossing alone: Children fleeing to U.S. land in shadowy system

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    Michelle Brané, director of our Migrant Rights & Justice program, is quoted in this article about unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America and seeking safety in the U.S.

    Read the article in the Houston Chronicle.

    Lackland to House Undocumented Children Again

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    Jennifer Podkul, senior program officer, Migrant Rights & Justice program, is quoted in this article about unaccompanied immigrant children being housed in Lackland Airforce Base.

    "They [children from Central America] said to us look, 'If I stay in my country I am going to die, and if I leave I might die, but at least I have a chance of living,'" said Podkul.

    Read more here.

    Why Are More and More Children Walking Across the Border?

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    Through the story of 14-year-old Enedelia Arriaga, Mother Jones tells the story of an unprecedented surge of children crossing the American border alone. The article cites extensively from the WRC's report "Forced From Home: The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America," blending facts and narrative to give a fuller picture of their experiences.

    Read the full article.

    Immigrant groups complain of 'icebox' detention cells

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    The Los Angeles Times quotes the WRC's Jennifer Podkul in this article about the practice of detaining immigrants in frigid cells to pressure them to agree to deportation. Two California Democrats, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of Downey, are pushing legislation to establish standards for the treatment of immigrants held in Customs and Border Protection facilities.

    Read the story here.



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    "There are more refugees now than at any other time in recent history," laments Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, one of the few organizations that focuses specifically on the world's displaced people, most of whom are women and children. With refugees spawned by catastrophes in Syria ("the biggest humanitarian crisis since Rwanda 20 years ago," says Costa), Somalia, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and even, still, Colombia the WRC has no shortage of projects to tackle. Here, Costa tells why WRC is making a difference, and how she keeps going.

    Read the interview on the Women in the World Foundation website.