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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

More Americas News

Weapons Found on Chinese-Flagged, Cuba-Bound Ship

Authorities in Cartegena, Colombia, detained ship Saturday; captain faces trafficking charges
More

US Weighs Venezuela’s Order to Cut US Embassy Staff

US State Department dismisses Caracas’ charge of undermining government as ‘baseless’
More

Venezuela Lets Uruguay Pay for Oil With Goods, Services

Struggling economy, currency controls in Venezuela have led to shortages of medicine, toilet paper, flour, shampoo, other basic goods
More

US Proposes Making Radio Marti, Broadcaster to Cuba, Independent

Officials say proposal was unrelated to Cuba outreach and aimed at modernizing the broadcaster
More

Venezuela to Require Visas for US Travelers

Move eliminates United States from list of 65 countries exempt from tourist visa requirements
More

Chilean Volcano Goes Quiet After Overnight Eruption

Volcano, located near popular tourist resort of Pucon around 750 km (460 miles) south of Santiago, is one of South America's most active
More