Increasing immigration

Grand Valley State University senior Michelle Alderink will give a presentation called “A Lost Innocence: The Forgotten Children of Central America” at 2 p.m. on Tuesday in Room 2263 in the Kirkhof Center.

Alderink is a Spanish and social work double major with a Latin American studies minor. She said her presentation came out of her work with Bethany Christian Services and her subsequent research in an independent study. In the speech, she will focus on three main locations where these children lose their innocence: their home countries, their journey and their new American homeland.

“These are kids who have lost everything,” Alderink said.

In her research report, she highlights the increasing numbers of children immigrating to the United States from Central America, particularly those from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, there were 6,800 children caught every year from 2004 to 2011. In 2013, the number rose to 24,000 children. The numbers are expected to reach 60,000 by the end of 2014.

She explained that there are several reasons for this move, with the most common being the violence and poverty at home.

“Overall, these children are fleeing due to lack of economic opportunities, lack of access and poor quality of the education system, inability to support themselves and overall fear and hopelessness,” Alderink said.

Although these children are unaccompanied and illegal, Alderink said they still deserve help finding their parents and obtaining legal rights, which are necessary to survive in America. However, the United States’ immigration policies are often not widely supported. Alderink cited an example from last summer when Congress denied a bill that would lend more funds to make more programs for these children.

“It’s not an immigration issue,” Alderink said. “These children from Central America have been forgotten by their governments, who are unable to protect them from the escalating violence and gang recruitment of children. In addition, they have been forgotten here in the United States, by U.S. policy and its failure to guarantee their physical and emotional safety and general disregard for their need for international protection.”

Alderink will end with a discussion concerning the future for these forgotten children.

“As college kids, it’s important to expand your mind and become educated,” she said. “I hope they take away a better knowledge of the situation, recognize the history of the children and view them with compassion.”

Zulema Moret is the Latin American studies and Spanish professor who supervised Alderink’s independent study at GVSU. Moret said the main topic of the class was children from Central America, and Alderink took it one step further when she focused on the forgotten children and their struggles with immigration.

“A sense of solidarity is very important,” Moret said. “Students need to know what’s going on with this issue because it’s a topic that is on the table now.”

For more information about unaccompanied minors, visit

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