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20140702 Anzalduas-Park BP-Comm-visit AF  8906 featureBishop Mark Seitz, of El Paso, emphasized the violence unaccompanied minors flooding the Rio Grande Valley are trying to escape in their home countries in written testimony to the Homeland Security Committee.

“With the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, we must understand who these children are, what is propelling them to travel alone on an increasingly dangerous journey, and what can be done to best address their welfare,” Seitz said at the hearing last week.

Seitz spoke of a 16-year-old girl from El Salvador who said she lived happily with her family until the day she saw a classmate shot by gang members on his way home from school. That’s when members of the gang began threatening her, Seitz said, adding the gang also tried to recruit her. She was beaten and threatened with a machete.

Police intervened, he said, and relocated her family to a rural area, but the gang still was able to hunt her down, and after months in hiding, her mother sent her to the United States.

The girl, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is applying for asylum in the U.S.

More than 50,000 unaccompanied minors, most from Central America, have crossed into the United States since October, and authorities project 150,000 will cross next year. The influx has created overcrowded federal detention facilities and stretched thin law enforcement resources on the border.

There have been 226 immigrant deaths this fiscal year.

Also last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced a media campaign that will be distributed throughout Central America, Mexico and the United States.

“If you cross illegally into the United States, you’re not eligible to earn a path of citizenship. You will not be eligible under the comprehensive immigration legislation that is currently before the Congress. You’re not eligible for deferred action for childhood arrivals,” Kerlikowske said.

“You will not get papers to allow you to stay, and you are putting yourself and you’re children in grave danger.”

Kerlikowske said 46 women and girls reported being raped this fiscal year. That’s more than all of last year, and he noted that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.

Calling the situation a humanitarian crisis, Kerlikowske said the media campaign focuses on three things: the dangerous journey, the fact that children will not get legal papers if they make it, and children need to be protected because they are the future.

Starting July 7, he said, the government would begin unveiling 233 billboards as well as bus signage, bus shelters and road overhead signage. The paid media campaign will run through September.

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