Children in No Man's Land (2008)


Anayansi Prado
April 15, 2015

Anayansi Prado, director and producer of Children in No Man's Land, explained the challenges involved in making the documentary about filming Mexican children migrating to the US and the goals of the film. She described the process of making the film from the initial conception to production, including the logistical and safety issues.  The Q&A session with 140 attendees following Prado’s remarks lasted almost one hour.

Children in No Man's Land tells the story of two unaccompanied minors crossing the US/Mexico border in search of their mother. Filmed and produced in 2009, the story predates the recent surge in unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the US southern border.  However, it provides a powerful insight into the motivations, dynamics, and challenges facing these young migrants and their families.

Immigration reform in summer 2014 took a back seat to debate over what to do about women and children arriving at the Mexico-US border from Central America. After 15,000 arrived in May and June 2014, Central American police set up roadblocks to ensure that women and children leaving El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have documentation showing that both parents approve the international travel of children. Bus companies were prohibited from selling tickets to unaccompanied children.

Over 63,000 unaccompanied children under 18 arrived in the US during the first 10 months of FY14, double the 25,000 for the entire year of FY13. Most were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and most were detected in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas soon after they entered the US from Mexico. Most were 15 to 18, but a quarter were under 15 and a quarter were female.

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Border Patrol agents can hold minor children for up to 72 hours before they are turned over to an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that operates shelters and sends the children to parents or relatives in the US. The HHS budget for FY14 to care for unaccompanied children is almost $1 billion.

Most of the unaccompanied children are placed in deportation proceedings. However, while waiting for these proceedings to unfold, often over several years, over 85 percent are released to their parents (55 percent) or relatives (30 percent) in the US.

The Border Patrol said that many of the children apprehended told them that the US government was giving "permisos" that allow foreign youth to live in the US and go to school, likely referring to the notices given to foreigners in deportation proceedings to appear before an immigration judge and explain why they need asylum in the US. While waiting for these hearings, children may go to school and access some social services. Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said in June 2014 that "the increase may be in response to the perception that children would be allowed to stay or that immigration reform would in some way benefit these children."