Bioethics Blogs

What Do We Owe to Child Migrants?

From October 1, 2013, through June 15, 2014, more than 52,000 child migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas, overwhelming the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Obama administration has declared this an “urgent humanitarian situation” and has authorized DHS to establish a Unified Coordinating Group led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide for the children’s humanitarian needs. While the recent upsurge, and the myths circulating among migrants that there is a window of opportunity for children seeking asylum (or for women with young children), have caught the attention of policy-makers and the media, a May 2014 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concludes that this pattern of “mixed” migration, which includes children fleeing violent home countries, in addition to more typical economic migrants, began in 2009.

What do we owe these children?  What is an appropriate ethical and legal framework for exploring and articulating our obligations, both in terms of immediate humanitarian aid and beyond? A recent New York Times editorial captured these questions and identified the problem with the arguments that the United States owes nothing beyond swift deportation:

What is America’s responsibility to those beyond our borders who are dislocated by poverty and violence? (None? If so, then what do we do when they show up at the border anyway? And do we want to treat trafficked children the same as drug smugglers and other criminals?)

There are several recognized frameworks for understanding what this nation (or any nation) owes, in terms of health-related rights or services, to children who show up at the border and how these obligations relate to undocumented children already living in this country.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.