HONDURAS, July 19, 2014 — The massive migration of children to the United States over the last several months starkly demonstrates that all is not well in Central America.
The response from Americans suggests that, perhaps, all is not well in the U.S., either. When the plight of children fails to inspire tenderness or elicit the impulse to protect them, the human heart has reached its maximum expression of decadence.
The latest figures show that more than 57,000 unaccompanied children between the ages of 3 and 17 have been arrested at the southern border of the United States this year, attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. All these children came from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Interestingly, not a single child from Costa Rica was apprehended.
All these children carry sad stories, tragedies of constant violence which has been their companion since birth. They belong to economically depressed countries plagued by high levels of corruption, impunity, insecurity, and violence. This creates a toxic brew that limits opportunities for education and employment, and robs them of the ability to make a decent living.
Most migrants are very humble people. Suffocated by a miserable life, they are easily seduced by the story of “The American Dream.” Adults who have managed to cross the border have been led to believe that once their children reach U.S. territory, they will be safe and will be allowed to stay. They will be free of the violence and poverty of their home countries, they think, and they can grasp the gold ring of that American Dream.
The traffickers who haul these children through Central America, to Mexico, to the United States are businessmen making large sums of money. These human traffickers are highly organized.
At the top are the “coyotes,” who run the business, make contacts and negotiate with organized crime to provide needed goods or to pay the”toll” that organizations like the Zetas charge on the Mexican border to let them pass safely.
There are the recruiters who run the marketing campaign. They constantly advertise to the parents that for less than $1,000.00,their children will have a good chance to arrive safely to paradise. They are the “facilitators” who constantly drum up business, talking about the opportunities and safety in the United States.
At the low-end of the scale are the “guides” or “pullers” who are responsible for leading the group to the border.
The traffickers have the most modern communications devices and know exactly how to catch the attention of parents and route the children to the border.
Many adults have relayed horror stories of the trek to the border. Thousands die on their way and others are maimed for life.
Children suffer the same fate, including rape and violence during the trip.
Yet, despite the difficulties, Central American parents send their children north. These families are terrified that their children will be recruited by gangs or other types of organized crime groups, or that they will be executed for refusing to join if they remain in their country. They face the possibility of “eradication” by paramilitary groups that continue to exist, dedicated to “social cleansing.”
To avoid these even more relevant, present dangers, the parents prefer to risk the journey, in hopes that they can reach a place of freedom, of safety, and of opportunity.
Other families send children to the United States as part of the desire to rebuild their families. Often one or both parents have already come to the United States, to escape the tragic crumbling of society in many Central American countries, and they want their families to join them.
The reaction of the governments of the Central American countries has been ambiguous.
Mexico has promised to strengthen the border with Guatemala to prevent the passage of illegal migrants, especially children, but has not made any real changes. “The Beast”, the train that delivers stow-away children, continues circulating with its human cargo full of misery and false hopes. Although it is well-known that the train is controlled by traffickers, who literally collect tickets from the migrant children, authorities have made no move to halt its progress.
The Government of Guatemala announced it will investigate the parents of children who attempt to migrate and allow their children to travel unaccompanied. If the parents are found negligent, they will serve three to four years in prison.
Guatemala’s interior minister, Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, has proposed a regional network of intelligence and law enforcement to disrupt human traffickers. However, no action has yet taken place.
El Salvador has launched a campaign urging parents not to put their children’s lives at risk in hopes of discouraging parents from sending children to the United States.
Honduras, which contributes 60% of the migrant children, has dismantled the National Directorate of Immigration and fired all its officials, claiming that it was corrupt. It is now creating the “Institute of Migration and Immigration Policy”, which will be overseen by the Ministers of Defense, President, Human Rights, Governance and National Director of Research and Intelligence. The President, Juan Orlando Hernandez, has said he will appoint new directors and staff of the new unit.
Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, Salvador Sanchez Ceren in El Salvador and the General Coordinator of the Government of Honduras, Jorge Hernandez Alcerro, will hold a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss the issue and find a solution to the problem. They have asked the United States to increase spending in Central America, to improve security and economic opportunities.
The truth is that many of these little ones are trafficked, some are used for organ trafficking, others as slaves on plantations and factories, girls are often raped and sold to brothels. Many pay their passage in exchange for sex.
All these horrors are predicting a bleak and tragic future for many people.
Because of the complicated situation, senior members of the United Nations Human Rights Council are asking that the U.S. treat these children as refugees, not illegal immigrants. The UNHRC is concerned that if they will face unsafe conditions if they are returned to their countries.
Part of this tragedy is the growing public indifference. People are so immersed in fighting for their own survival that there is little sympathy to give to others. We read the stories and that is all they are, stories filling newspapers around the world.
To truly solve this problem, we must unite as a single society. We must start to believe these children deserve our concern and protection, and that it is in the best interest of all of us to find a long-term solution to the problem
Every one of us is responsible and has an obligation to work to alleviate the horrific conditions and resolve the problem. We must listen to the anguished cry of thousands of people who need to have their most fundamental rights respected and be allowed to live with dignity.
These children are far more than words on newsprint. They are living and breathing people, and we must find a way to open our hearts.