In the current debate about how to address the challenge of unaccompanied minors entering the United States along the southwestern border, a disturbing narrative has developed in Washington that all too often has gone unquestioned: the central task for policymakers is to "stem the tide" of those seeking refuge.
The adage seems to suggest that stopping the arrival of children is a sufficient policy response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
This line of argument obscures the fact that as a nation of laws the United States has legal obligations of its own — and those obligations extend to the children currently fleeing the horrific violence convulsing the "Northern Triangle" of Central America: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Inconvenient as this truth may be, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has urged the United States to "recognize that this is a refugee situation, which implies that they shouldn't be automatically sent to their home countries but rather receive international protection."
The unaccompanied children braving death to make it to the United States are indeed de facto refugees. The Northern Triangle countries they leave behind are a genuine war zone as generalized, organized criminal violence has metastasized throughout the region.
Honduras logged the highest murder rate in the world in this year's report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, and Guatemala and El Salvador both rounded out the top five. The violence had become so pervasive by this past November that armed attackers fired upon the 21-year-old daughter of the former president of Honduras.