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What 2 Canadian Kids Crossing The Border Playing PokemonGo Tells Us About Immigration Enforcement

The Pikachu balloon floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York in New York, 2012. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLES SYKES
The Pikachu balloon floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York in New York, 2012. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLES SYKES

In an incident that may not have played out in the same happy way if it had happened on the southern U.S. border, two Canadian kids fully absorbed in the viral augmented reality game PokémonGO illegally crossed into the United States last week.

Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the juveniles walking south from Canada into a remote part of Montana while playing the PokémonGo game on their cell phones.

“Both juveniles were so captivated by their Pokémon GO games that they lost track of where they were,” CBP Public Affairs Officer Michael Rappold said in a statement. “They crossed the international border inadvertently, but agents were able to reunite them with their mother.”

The quick and happy reunion between children and their mom is a scene that doesn’t typically play out on the southern U.S. border, which is highly militarized.

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It would be harder to wander past the U.S.-Mexico border without realizing it. About 86 percent of the 21,000 border agents are spread out throughout the south along areas of greater border crossing activity into the United States. For all other areas that aren’t covered on foot by border agents, the U.S. has remote, electronic surveillance and nature’s jagged terrain to act as barriers and strong deterrents.

And Central American children who cross the border alone aren’t usually reunited with their parents. Instead, they’re typically detained at Border Patrol stations in very cold rooms colloquially known as ice boxes because the air conditioner runs on full blast all day. Their treatment by border agents is also very different. In a 2014 lawsuit brought by five major human rights organizations, 116 Latin American children alleged that they were victims of some form of abuse — like sexual assault, physical abuse, beatings, and the use of stress positions — by border agents.

The difference, of course, is that these Latin American children are seeking some way to stay in the United States legally — not playing a popular virtual reality game.

Still, it’s a reminder that the political discourse on national security has rarely focused on the northern border, something that immigrant activists say reveals a bias in our country’s approach to immigration enforcement. Politicians like Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are almost singularly focused on the U.S.-Mexico border and Latino immigrants, calling to build a border wall and force Mexico to pay for it.

Not all conservatives are happy that the southern border gets all the attention. Right-wing site Breitbart News covered the PokémonGO news as a supposed cautionary tale — warning that “Mexicans who have been deported already from the United States, or anyone who fraudulently obtains a Mexican passport, might seek to enter the United States illegally from Canada across our largely unguarded northern border.”