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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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

Massive Fire Engulfs Mexican Oil Rig, Four Dead

State-run oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) says there is no evidence of a major oil spill following the blast, which injured 16 workers
More

Floods Death Toll Rises in Chile, President Cancels Trips

Freak torrential downpours in Atacama desert, normally the driest in the world, destroyed homes and bridges, cut off roads, and left thousands stranded
More

Rio Residents Protest Olympic Eviction With Road Block

Cars gridlocked for at least five kilometers in southern neighborhood of Barra de Tijuca as residents rally against demolition of favela
More

Peru's PM, Government to Resign After Censure Vote

Move delivers a blow to President Ollanta Humala, who will now have to form another new government
More

Argentine Workers Strike Over Income Tax Rate

With economy already weak, public transport stops, many businesses close and garbage piles up on one-day walkout
More

Tickets Go on Sale for 2016 Rio Olympics

More than half of the 7.5 million tickets will cost 70 Brazilian reais ($22) or less
More