News / Americas

Poverty, Violence Drive Central American Exodus to US

Migrants sit at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church temporary migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas, June 27, 2014.
Migrants sit at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church temporary migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas, June 27, 2014.
Reuters

Pregnant and with a young child in her arms, 17-year-old Andy Lizette Navarro says she has lost hope for the future in her semi-deserted mountain hamlet deep in rural Honduras, and dreams of America.

There are precious few options in El Guantillo, which lives primarily from corn, beans and coffee grown in the mountains all around. Many residents are unemployed and rely on seasonal work harvesting the coffee to scrape by. Most young men from here migrate north, and the hamlet is now made up predominantly of women, children and the elderly.

“Here, in this village, there is no future for me and my children,” Navarro said outside her family's modest, dirt-floor adobe home, explaining why she will soon risk the long journey north. “We have to leave.”

El Guantillo is typical of villages across Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that spew out a steady stream of migrants seeking work and a better life in the United States. Driven largely by poverty and gang violence at home, the wave has swelled again in the last few months, although with a new dynamic as more children make the trek, many traveling without parents or relatives to care for them.

President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $2 billion in emergency funds to deal with the surge. He also plans to boost security on the southern U.S. border and speed up the deportation of migrants, including children, back to their home countries, a White House official said on Sunday. The push is aimed at persuading people like Navarro to stay at home rather than take the long, dangerous journey.

But she said her sister Rosa, 18, made it to St. Louis, Missouri, with a young daughter earlier this month after paying a human smuggler, or “coyote”, $3,500 to help her through Guatemala and Mexico and across the U.S. border. “If my sister can make it, I can too,” she said. Two months pregnant and with her son not yet two years old, Navarro plans to travel soon before it becomes too difficult.

During the eight months ending June 15, some 52,000 children were detained at the U.S. border with Mexico, most of them from Central America. That was double the previous year's tally and tens of thousands more are believed to have slipped through.

Coyotes are spurring on migrants by putting out the word that pregnant women and unaccompanied minors are treated more leniently and allowed to stay in the United States, although the Obama administration insists they will be returned home.

“Rumors are being spread that the United States will receive and help young people and children and their mothers and fathers who get in illegally,” said Iris Acosta, who grew up in El Guantillo and teaches at the school here. She said parents pulled 22 children aged 5 to 14 out of the school between February and May, all bound for the United States.

Exodus

Local residents estimate more than 1,500 people, or around a third of the population, have deserted the village over time, especially in the last 15 years.  Many homes sit empty although others - some large, well made and brightly colored - are springing up, built by migrants who have spent years in the United States but plan to return home some day to a nice house and with some savings.

Navarro, a single mother, earns up to $7.50 a day during the coffee harvest, but it only lasts a few months a year and she has no other work. Almost one-fifth of Hondurans live on under $1.25 a day, the World Bank says, but it's not just poverty that sends them packing.

Health and education services are bad, violent youth gangs effectively control sections of major cities and towns, and U.N. data shows Honduras has the world's highest murder rate at 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people.

Fabian Gutierrez, a local coffee grower, said he plans to hire a coyote to get his 16-year-old son Fabricio to Miami, where the boy's uncle has been living for years, rather than have him look for work in Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa. “Here there is no future, no work. He has finished his basic education and if I send him to Tegucigalpa with a cousin, the gangs could kill him or he could turn into a gang member himself.

It's better to send him to the United States.” Recent U.S. policy changes have sparked confusion and contributed to the rising numbers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement gave its officials discretion in 2011 to weigh various factors in apprehension, detention, and deportation, particularly in the case of minors.

Then, in 2012, the government said young illegal immigrants who had been in the United States since 2007 and met requirements including no felony convictions could apply for a two-year authorization to stay and work. Coupled with the fact that fewer children were being deported, many Central Americans are under the impression that U.S. immigration policy has become more lax.

But risks abound on the trip north: murder, robbery, sexual abuse and serious accidents on freight trains. Locals say five villagers from El Guantillo have lost limbs after falling off Mexico's infamous “La Bestia” freight train. Thousands of migrants sit on top of the train as it heads north and falls are frequent.

While fewer Mexicans are crossing into the United States, pushing down the overall numbers, more and more Central Americans are making the journey.

Relentless violence is a major reason. “If youths want to go out to play, they kill them ... if they want to study, they face threats. It is overwhelming them,” said Ana Zelaya, secretary of a rights group in El Salvador that helps relatives of dead and disappeared migrants.

The U.S.-Mexico border is some 3,200 kilometers long, so is difficult to properly police. And while for years illegal immigrants would cross in more remote areas, lawyers say many minors now turn themselves in as they are often simply sent to live with relatives pending immigration hearings.

The favored crossing point is the Rio Grande valley on the Texas border, where 37,621 unaccompanied children were stopped between October and mid-June, up 178 percent from a year before. In Guatemala, where about 54 percent of the population is poor according to U.N. data, villages are also emptying.

San Jose Calderas, which is tucked away among volcanoes around 64 kilometers from Guatemala City, offers little in the way of work beyond subsistence farming of beans, corn and vegetables. A couple of local families raise chickens to sell eggs, and the remaining men look for scarce jobs in construction. It is mainly poverty that pushes people to leave this area.

"There is no work for the men here, much less for women," said Maria Gomez, a 33-year-old mother of four who lives off the money sent home each month by her husband working in Iowa.

When U.S. authorities raided a meat-packing plant in Iowa in 2008 and deported some 300 workers and their families, half were from San Jose Calderas. Few were deterred and many, like Gomez's husband, used coyotes to return to the United States.

 

 

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

Comment Sorting
Comment on this forum (1)
Comments
     
by: King of Pandemonius from: America
June 30, 2014 11:54 PM
Poverty? These 'impoverished' invaders are paying $7,000.00 a head to human smugglers. How much do you think $7,000 is worth in Honduras? A fortune. Fact is all that $$$ is being sent from previous waves of illegals that have $7,000 to send back home because they don't pay taxes and we American taxpayers pay ALL the social costs.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US
More

US Ambassador Calls for LGBT Rights

John Berry spoke at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne
More

China's Xi Praises Close Ties with Cuba

Head of China's Communist Party hails common socialist bond between his country and Cuba as he kicks off a state visit in Havana
More

US Judge Orders Argentina, Creditors to Reach Deal

Lawyers for investors who declined to restructure bonds after country defaulted on about $100B in 2002 warned that time running out to reach a deal, avert fresh default
More

Trial Imminent for Detained Venezuelan Protest Leader Lopez

Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, says outside pressure needed on Venezuelan president to move case forward
More

Sex Workers Seek HIV Prevention

The Lancet publishes new series on HIV
More