More People Need to Know About What Happened to These Girls in Guatemala

March 21st 2017

On March 8, forty people were killed in a fire at a Guatemalan home for orphaned, abandoned, and disabled children. The majority of them were teenage girls.

While this tragedy might seem distant and unrelated to the United States, it highlights how actions domestically have a ripple effect abroad.

The fire was in response to growing tension in the area.

Before the fire occurred, the home — Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home in San Jose Pinula — was the venue for various criminal activities.

According to The New Yorker, at the time of the fire, more than sixty children from Virgen del la Asunción reportedly were missing, some of them believed to be murdered. Others were reportedly sold drugs by the home’s personnel or at risk of being prostituted.

The fire is being regarded as an act of defiance against these conditions.

Following a riot at the home, many children at Virgen del la Asunción ran away, were captured, and returned to the facility by police.

Boys were sent to their dorms while the girls were sent to a classroom with mattresses for unknown reasons. Police locked the girls in the room, refusing to let them leave to go to the bathroom and telling them “to rot.” A fire was started in protest which quickly spread as the police watched but did nothing.

The tragedy highlights a growing problem in Central America.

In response to conditions like this, children are attempting migration to the United States alone.

The treatment of children at a place like Virgen del la Asunción is being pinned to the corrupt, failing government in a violent country. The situation has inspired many to call Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to resign.

Moreover, the United States has been accused of contributing to the conditions by deporting thousands of gang members from U.S. prisons back to the area in the earlier part of the decade.

This is why child immigration is surging.

Immigration by unaccompanied children has increased in recent years from Central America in response to growing gang activity and violence.

Between 2011 and 2012, migration by unaccompanied children from the area jumped by 91 percent. Between 2014 and 2015, it jumped by 106 percent.

The Trump Administration’s approach to immigration and deportations is complicating the matter.

Under the Obama administration, when unaccompanied children immigrated, they were released to family members or organizations that can assist in immigration courts.

Protections for these vulnerable children will likely be reeled in as the Trump Administration has deemed their special status “an exploitation” that has “led to abuses.”

An Obama administration program that offered Central American children a path to refugee status would also be put on hold under Trump's latest travel ban. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the program was created in 2014 as record numbers of Central American children fled to the United States border. Through it, certain children from select Central American countries are allowed to apply for refugee status from their home countries. If they prove that they do indeed face extreme danger, they have a chance of being allowed to come the United States, after a thorough screening by the Department of Homeland Security.

However, even as these avenues to the United States are closed off, experts predict that Central American children will not stop trying to escape dire circumstances at home.

“If you close an important valve, another one will open,” Jaime Rivas Castillo, a professor in El Salvador, told The Los Angeles Times.

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