Is Separating Parents And Children Having A Deterrent Effect On Migrants?

Jun 18, 2018
Originally published on June 18, 2018 7:06 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Trump administration maintains that separating children from their parents is a deterrent, so now we're going to put that question to NPR's Carrie Kahn. She covers Mexico and Central America. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good afternoon.

CORNISH: So do you get the sense that that's the case? Are Central Americans getting the message that they'll be separated from their children if they try to cross the U.S. border illegally?

KAHN: The simple answer is we just don't know. It's too early to tell. You know, the trip from places like Honduras, El Salvador - we're talking about Guatemala - can take up to a month. And the policy just began at the beginning of May, so people could already be on their way or have already gotten to the border. So the only way we really know is to look at the numbers of border apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border. And we just did get those numbers in for May. And families being arrested are up. Apprehensions are up. So right now we'd have to say no.

But those people who are probably on their way were there before the policy was in full force. So we'll have to wait for the June numbers to come in, but that won't be for another two weeks or so. But the message does get back home to relatives in these sending countries in Central America through social media and telephone calls. They do know what is happening.

CORNISH: In the meantime, what's the situation in Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador? I mean, is there any reason to believe that things are getting better back there and that there won't be as many migrants trying to flee these countries?

KAHN: The short answer again is no. It's still bad. And if you look at Guatemala, it's just suffered some major natural disasters - that big volcano explosion. This has been a tough hurricane season already. We're not even through the first month. There's flooding and heavy rains. I'd say in Guatemala, no, things are not better.

And the situation in Nicaragua - we've had more than 170 deaths while there's been protests against the administration of President Ortega. It's never been a sending country, but I've heard from reporters that are down at the border that they've already seen Nicaraguans making their way heading north. So I'd say, no, the situation is not better in the region. And there's signs of bigger troubles coming.

CORNISH: What if anything has the U.S. done in terms of outreach in these countries to for instance let them know that there's a new policy or drive home the message that migrants shouldn't come?

KAHN: I think the embassies in countries - Guatemala, especially in El Salvador, they're not doing much at all. There have been a lot of local press reports and a lot of discussions about what's going on, but no declarations from the U.S. embassies in these countries. And also, usually - I could just tell you in the past when there has been a change in government policies towards migrations.

I could tell you about the Bush crackdown during the Bush administration, they would buy PSAs in local markets to tell people of the dangers of coming and trying to deter people that way. And we have not seen any PSAs or declarations from U.S. embassies in those countries. But I don't know about backchannel agreements or help from the Trump administration to these countries.

But we do know that the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico - she was just speaking to Weekend Edition Sunday just yesterday. And she said that the current hostile climate from the Trump administration has drowned out cooperation and talks on topics like migration and security. Here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ROBERTA JACOBSON: There were a lot of people working cooperatively, working towards, you know, making both countries safer and more prosperous, et cetera. And yet it didn't always matter. That work was so often for naught because something would get blown up by a tweet or a comment.

KAHN: So she's saying that cooperation is being strained on these important topics like migration and security back in these home countries because of the hostile stance that the Trump administration has taken toward Mexico and Central America.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn. Carrie, thanks for your reporting on this.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.