A 12 year old committed suicide in February after law enforcement authorities caught her with a migrant smuggler as they attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the Associated Press. Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission) released a press statement on Monday, saying that it would investigate her death and find her parents who live in the United States.
Mexican authorities turned the young girl over to Chihuahua state authorities who put her in a private shelter, “instead of one run by the state’s child protective services,” in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. State prosecutors said that the girl hanged herself inside the bathroom of the private shelter, “La Esperanza,” but that “there was no foul play.”
Children who make the treacherous journey often face traumatic experiences in both countries. In 2006, at least 3,000 unaccompanied children were deported to Ciudad Juarez, which some call “ground zero” for the violence raging in Mexico, after they were apprehended while trying to cross into the United States, according to a Journal of the Southwest report.
Of the 404 children interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a March 2014 report, 58 percent of children crossed the border because they faced violence by organized armed criminal actors and violence in the home. The same report found that 40 percent of the children from Mexico are exploited to be part of a human smuggling ring, by “facilitating others in crossing into the United States unlawfully.”
Once caught at the border, children end up in deportation proceedings where they are “mixed with adult detainees and exposed to human and contraband trafficking, exploitation, and labor abuses before they are deported from the United States.” Children often spend the night in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office before they face an “interview” the next day where they are asked the “same questions they’ve been asked since the first moment they were apprehended in the field,” fingerprinted, and made to describe the smuggler they were with. Children who remain in deportation proceedings can spend anywhere between one week to four months, with an average of 61 days in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody, an agency responsible for children after they are apprehended by border agents. What’s more the Border Patrol has in the past deported minors expeditiously and only informed the consulate of the incident after the fact.
Last year alone, minors accounted for one in 13 people caught by Border Patrol and 17 percent of them were under the age of 13. According to the Los Angeles Times, up to 120 unaccompanied children cross the border each day. And the Vera Institute of Justice found that 40 percent of unaccompanied children may be eligible for “statuses that exempt them from deportation. Among the most likely possibilities: asylum, because they fear persecution in their home country, or a special immigrant juvenile status for children abused or abandoned by a parent.”
The article has been changed to reflect some details. A New York Times investigation in April found that the girl was 12 years old. Her coyote, or human smuggler, lied to say that she was eight years old when officials picked them up in the border city, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.