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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Child Migrants: The View From Guatemala

Guatemalan migrant Gladys Chinoy, 14, right, waits with more than 500 other migrants, many traveling with small children, beside the stuck freight train on which they were traveling, outside Reforma de Pineda, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 20, 2014. Reached by phone in New York City, Gladys' mother said she was aware of the dangers but had finally decided they were worth it after five years apart. The mother said, "if she gets across, she can stay here, that's what you hear."(Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Guatemalan migrant Gladys Chinoy, 14, right, waits with more than 500 other migrants, many traveling with small children, beside the stuck freight train on which they were traveling, outside Reforma de Pineda, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 20, 2014. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson yesterday toured the warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, where some of the 52,000 unaccompanied children who’ve illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in the past year are being held.

Republicans blame Obama administration policies for the recent wave of child immigrants. The White House blames gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The picture from Guatemala is more nuanced. Mike McDonald, who writes for Reuters from Guatemala City, says the Guatemalan government is trying to inform people that U.S. policy towards new immigrants hasn’t changed, and immigrants fed up with gang extortion are being duped by coyotes who smuggle them across the border.

McDonald discusses the view from Guatamala with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.


  • Mike McDonald, writes for Reuters from Guatemala City. He tweets @mdmcdonald.



The Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is warning Central Americans that there is no free pass to live in the U.S. It's all an attempt to stem the flow of thousands of unaccompanied children who've been crossing the border illegally. There are a number of theories about why that has been happening. Republicans have blamed the Obama administration's immigration policies. The White House blames gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. And we want to get right to the source for answers. So we called up Mike McDonald who writes for Reuters news agency in Guatemala. He's with us via Skype from Guatemala City. Mike, welcome to HERE AND NOW.

MIKE MCDONALD: Hi, thank you for having me.

HOBSON: Well, and what would you say is driving this wave of children immigrating, especially?

MCDONALD: Well, you know, I think there's a lot of factors. I think, especially in some of these rural communities, farming villages, sort of on the outskirts of Guatemala City and some of the very rural areas, I think one of the main factors is just a lack of economic opportunity in these villages. A lot of the fathers of these families have migrated to the United States in previous years in search of jobs - in search of opportunities in the United States, in order to make a higher wage in the United States. And with better wage in the United States, they send back a pretty good portion to their families back via remittances. And so what you're seeing with some of these child migrants is that they're going to reunite with their fathers that have been in the U.S. for a while and I think that's part of the reason why you're seeing this sort of influx of children - of women and children that are crossing the border now.

HOBSON: But the economic opportunity hasn't changed dramatically in the last six months. So why are so many people coming now?

MCDONALD: There's been some talk here - these coyotes which are the people smugglers, which help the immigrants reach the United States, they've been telling immigrants, in the past year or two, that they would qualify for some sort of residency under the immigration reform that's in the U.S. Congress at the moment. They've been sort of using that and are manipulating some of these communities. You know, the correct information might not be reaching these communities. So some of these people smugglers have been telling them that if you go now and you cross the border now and you're a child or you're a female, you're going to qualify for some sort of residency. And in some of these communities, you know, these people have been believing this, right? So I think that's also helped increase the numbers this year and last year as well because child immigration is nothing new. I mean, there's been family reunification going on for years. But it's just in the past year or two that we've seen this large spike in the numbers.

HOBSON: But what is the incentive for these people smugglers to be spreading this misinformation. Because, obviously, in this country, you would say that immigration reform bill, which did pass the Senate, is not going anywhere in the House right now. It's not likely to become law this year. So why are they spreading this misinformation?

MCDONALD: Right, well, it's a business. And for every person that they take to the United States - I mean, these coyotes, these people smugglers, they charge anywhere - I've heard anywhere between $5,000 going up to $10,000 to take somebody to the U.S. And they use these pretty elaborate networks that they have set up. They used their contacts in Guatemala and they have somebody bring them to the Guatemala-Mexico border. And there they hand them off to somebody else. So there's a financial incentive for these people smugglers and they're businessmen. And they're basically making a sales pitch, right? So for every person that they take, I mean, that's $5,000 or $10,000 in their pocket, right? So they're doing business and they're using this as sort of a sales pitch.

HOBSON: Why are the parents allowing their kids to go? Or are they? Do they have any say in the matter?

MCDONALD: You know, it's not an easy decision for them. And in a lot of these cases, it's the father that's in the United States and it's the mother and son or mother and daughter that are here in Guatemala. You know, mothers hear from coyotes. They hear from their neighbors that, oh, well if you go now - so-and-so told me that if you go now with your child, you're not going to get deported. And you're going to qualify and you can reunite your family. And if you reunite your family, you can qualify for some sort of residency. I mean, it's something that children are hearing from their classmates. It's something that mothers are hearing from their neighbors, from the coyotes, and from the people smugglers. I mean, the word spreads and it spreads via mouth. You know, it's a decision that sometimes the mother makes and sometimes they make together.

HOBSON: What about the theory that the drug cartels are trying to increase all of this traffic, of children immigrating across the border, to distract border agents from watching what they're doing?

MCDONALD: You know, it's really complicated. There's a lot of smuggling that goes on along these borders, a lot of smuggling - not only of people, of drugs. There's smuggling of commodities - I mean, along the U.S.-Mexico border. You know, when sugar prices go up in Mexico, you can see Guatemalans smuggling sugar into Mexico. So there's just - I mean, there's so much smuggling going on in these networks. They're sort of interconnected along the borders. And so, you know, some of them are probably doing one of three. Some of them are probably doing all of the three things - smuggling commodities, people and drugs. So the extent that they're using it as a distraction, I'm not sure. I think, you know, you get along these very porous borders and anyway the smugglers can figure out a way to make a dollar, they'll probably do it.

HOBSON: Is the message from the Obama administration and Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, getting through in a place like Guatemala? He recently wrote a letter to the people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, that was in some of the media there, warning them not to cross the border illegally and that they won't be allowed to stay in the United States.

MCDONALD: Right, you know, I think the message has gotten through very clearly to the Guatemalan government. I don't know if the message makes it as far as some of these rural communities. I know that the governments here have really picked up on that message. For example, the Guatemalan government is going to launch a campaign next month. They're going to distributing, I think, 70,000 little flyers, pamphlets into some of these communities, explaining to them that they won't qualify for the immigration reform. But, you know, these communities are very isolated and they don't always have access to media. And they're not checking social media sites as often as people would think in the United States. So they get their messages via radio, via print, newspapers. And to the extent that that reaches the communities, I mean, I don't know. And these communities - these coyotes, they've built sort of a level of trust, throughout the years, with these communities because they take immigrants three or four times. And, you know, these immigrants come back deported and then they go back again to the United States with the same coyote and the same networks. And so they sort of believe the coyote more or they trust the coyote more because they've known them. They've established a relationship throughout the years. I mean, the message has gotten through to the governments here, but, you know, to the extent that reaches the communities, I don't know if it reaches everybody, to be honest.

HOBSON: What about this argument that the gang violence is just so bad that people have to escape it in these countries in Central America? Is it so bad? You live there.

MCDONALD: You know, it is bad in certain parts. In Guatemala City, one of the main concerns in some of the areas of the capital city and some of the urban areas, mainly, are the extortions. There's these street gangs in Guatemala City and Tegucigalpa in Honduras, in San Salvador in El Salvador, that run these very elaborate extortion schemes and they extort local businesses. They extort transportation hubs - buses, taxi drivers, residents. So I think that, you know, to a certain extent, that does happen. You know, but, again, I think it's, you know - the trip is so violent itself. There's sexual abuse that happens along the route. There's kidnappings. There's murders. There's extortion that happens along the immigration route. So I mean, the immigration route, itself, is probably as violent, if not more violent, than some of these communities, right? So I think some of these families that live in these urban areas that are forced to pay an extortion to local gangs - I think if they have a family member in the U.S., who is working in the U.S. and sending remittances back here, that helps alleviate the extortion fee, to a certain extent. So, you know, it is a factor. But, you know, I think the overriding factor is just the lack of economic opportunity in a lot of these areas - even some of the major cities. I mean, the minimum wage here just isn't very high. And so, you know, violence is a factor. But it's - you know people don't have the money to buy things. They're going to look for opportunities elsewhere, right? So I think that is one of the driving factors and family reunification, as well. I mean, once the father is there, then the family wants to be back together, right?

HOBSON: Mike McDonald writes for Reuters news agency in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Mike, thank you.

MCDONALD: Thank you very much.

HOBSON: And stay with us. It's HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • http://www.senorpescador.com/ Senor Pescador

    thanks , kinda incomplete and even though you are corrupt Reuters, bringing this to the forefront

  • Rick

    NPR has been ignoring the major news story concerning the Obama Administration putting out requests for bids for contractors to take care of the massive wave of young illegal immigrants on the southern border. The requests for bids were issued in JANUARY! This is all going as planned.

    The whole situation is ridiculous. It could all be stopped if Obama did his job and enforced the law. Close the border! Build a real fence! Send the National Guard! Deport all illegals!
    .. But instead, Obama allows this illegal invasion of our country because they will turn into loyal welfare recipients / Democratic voters.

    • S David H de Lorge

      Yes. Just like he uses the magical presidential power to turn off the Republican Congress.

  • M S

    Obama’s policies implanted the idea that children will not be deported.

    • S David H de Lorge

      No. Statements like that, repeatedly circulated on the web, have circulated among those children, leading them to the mistaken belief that it is true.

      • Rick

        Yeah, I’m sure the two year old kids of illiterate parents who live in a mud hut with no electricity spend a lot of time surfing the ‘net.

        • S David H de Lorge

          And I’m equally sure that a lot of those two year olds are independently hopping frieght trains and making the journey north.

          The story has been about kids old enough to be approaching adolescence. They get out and about, sometimes going to school, running the streets of nearby villages, towns and cities, and listening to and talking with lots of people. They are looking into shops with TVs playing. They are encountering multiple people with cell phones. They are hearing gossip about what is going on. They may get occasional, treasured phone calls or word from loved ones up north.

          If they’re lacking parents, or if they’re aware of parents gone to El Norte, or if, among the millions, they are the especially enterprising ones, they may decide to follow in the footsteps of other kids who have been reputed to have succeeded in going to El Norte (whether accurate or in the mind of a child is another issue). Trucks and trains rumble by; hopping on isn’t always a challenge. Judgment and planning usually aren’t mature.

          Those are the children under discussion here. Babes in arms of migrant parents are another story.

          Would you like to address your reply to me on this story in this story, or feel clever about some other wisecrack?

          • http://www.senorpescador.com/ Senor Pescador

            very well written I have been in Guatemala since 1981 working there some and will be again in Iztapa, https://plus.google.com/b/114900988324650815933/+FairtradefishOrgGodLovesYou/posts

            they are beautiful people and I was there during the civil war, horrible they come to USA for some hope, and to work and they do work, many less jobs there also due to China cheap labor and not as good I moved to El Salvador in 1994, I know first hand what is going on,

          • S David H de Lorge

            Thank you. And thank you for your work.

      • it_disqus

        Dream Act?

        • S David H de Lorge

          Accurate definition and application of that proposal?

          • it_disqus

            I will give you the version the uneducated in Guatemala hear. A chance for citizenship for children.

          • S David H de Lorge

            Pretty much. From who all do they hear it?

          • it_disqus

            You know what the qualification are, but ask anyone on the street here in the US, Dem or Rep, what they are and you will hear amnesty for illegal children 90% of the time. Now take that message to the slums of Guatemala. You can not deny the message sent.

          • S David H de Lorge

            I do? I can’t?

            In whose fantasy?

      • Cacimo

        It is not a mistaken belief. The children arrive here, are fed and given tickets to relatives homes. No one is sent back. If people were being returned to Guatemala word would get out. The Obama administration has no plan to deport these children.

        • S David H de Lorge

          What news source has been failing to tell you about tens of thousands of children warehoused in custody along the border while somebody tries to figure out how to responsibly and humanely ship them back, and to where?

          Where have you been? How do you acquire this misinformation? How much have you actually looked at for yourself?

  • Frog

    Lack of economic opportunity?….yet they have the $5000 to $10000 to pay a coyote to smuggle them over the border. At least the broadcast admitted we have a “porous border”. Of course, we all knew that. Fix the border problem.

    • S David H de Lorge

      Some people really do know how to save, and to mobilize resources from their extended networks. They have to pay back the latter.

      • Rick

        Good, then they can come up with a $5 for bring in our country illegally.

        • S David H de Lorge

          Perhaps. Usually the coyote and various thieves have gotten to it first. Among the thieves are some of the people who employ some of them here, or sell them secretive, unregulated services.

    • it_disqus

      I know some illegals who paid the $5k plus to get into the country. Their family pooled the money to get them here and now they send money back to support their family. We will never be able to fix the border as long as there is incentive. I met these individuals at the Mexican restaurant I frequent. The restaurant is fully staffed by illegals except for the owners kids who were born in the US. The farmer I worked for when I was a teen has a full crew of illegals. As long as there is a better life to be made no walls can be built high enough.

  • S David H de Lorge

    Where are the misunderstood messages, that the borders will be open to them, predominantly originating?

    If you don’t really dig into this, you haven’t covered the story.

    My hypothesis is that Fox News Spanish, and associates, metastasizing on the web, have been a major source of the misinformation absorbed by these kids, as the Foxxist hysterical voices keep proclaiming that Obama has thrown the borders open and invited them in.

    • it_disqus

      Have you heard of the “Dream Act”? I actually laughed out loud when you brought up a Fox News conspiracy. Wow. hahahaha.

      • S David H de Lorge

        B) I didn’t suggest conspiracy. I may have suggested unintended consequence of hysterical, badly informed stupidity.

        A) The dream act applies to young people who grew up here, speak English as their primary language, and barely remember their country of birrth, if at all. They have been here most of their lives, feel American, and wish for access to higher education or military service and gainful, productive employment without having to remain secretive and scared.

        The dream act does *not apply* to children and teens who have arrived at the border. One of the main sources leading them to wrongly believe that something like the dream act does apply to them is probably the huge traffic in untruthful internet screaming about Obama throwing open the borders. They overhear and believe the worst of this, or misinterpret the misinterpretations of more accurate news which they overhear.

        Now, was that so hard?

        • it_disqus

          Hahahaha. You are a joke.

          • S David H de Lorge

            Remarkable viewpoint. Does it suggest contact with reality?

          • it_disqus

            A lot more reality than your opinion and the one proposed by H&N that drug lords are forcing kids across to cover their workings. It is fine if you are for the Dream Act, but ignoring the effects is not.

          • S David H de Lorge

            If you say so.

          • http://www.senorpescador.com/ Senor Pescador

            well written and thoughtful and compassionate your writes, amazing the ignorant, uncompassionate, arrogant greedy, OBESE xenophobes on these posts sometimes huh? quite embarrassing to be from amerika to the rest of the world these days, but most all in ALL countries take us as we are personally, they most all know the reality in USA and the people these days,

          • S David H de Lorge

            Thank you again. You’ve described the type well; I do wonder if any reply longer than “says you” is worth it with these haters, but I hope sometimes other people will see the exchange and learn something.

            The embarrassing reality about the US in the eyes of much of the world is awful, and probably feeds rumors of worse things which aren’t true. Anyway, I can’t stand it, and I hope to show myself as a regular human being. Wish I could visit you where you are, but can’t.

          • http://www.senorpescador.com/ Senor Pescador

            thank you Sir,
            I am 60 and still surfing
            but hey come on down beautiful country less than $150 One way from Myrtle beach to Guate city on spirit

          • S David H de Lorge

            Thanks, but I’m unable to right now. (Besides, I’m prejudiced against Myrtle Beach and its surrounding state, and would have to leave from somewhere out west. But that’s another issue.) Anyway, I’m sorry to miss on your invitation. I’ll be hoping for better conditions next year.

          • SenorPescador

            got ya on the Myrtle Beach issue, most ignorant inbred,racist Jim Crow, corrupt place in the country, but I’m still able to get in the ocean every day,
            but polluted lots of golf courses
            don’t start me on that,
            chems no fish etc

          • S David H de Lorge

            I appreciate your taking a moment to pollute a golf course, even just a little bit.

          • http://www.senorpescador.com/ Senor Pescador

            naw they get their own Karma USA is f*****d IMO I get to get outta here the east coast will have a large event in August I am told, golfers are well ridiculous

          • S David H de Lorge

            Happy trails to you!

          • http://www.senorpescador.com/ Senor Pescador

            you the joke

    • Cacimo

      They do not need any news source. The see their friends and neighbors leaving by the thousands for the US and zero being sent back. They are simply responding to the reality on the street.

      • S David H de Lorge

        News sources contribute. So do rumors from friends and neighbors. Of course the latter have most influence, and when they are passing on misinformation it just makes it sound more true.

        Among the millions there, they see or hear about some kids leaving by the ones and twos. Sometimes they hear about those who have returned or been sent back, instead of just disappearing into the night. By the time the ones and twos get close to the border, they have accumulated into the dozens, and many more dreams and rumors are generated to travel back and out through the gossip net.

        When you try to think about these things, try to do some internal fact checking so you can hope to conclude within spittin distance of reality. Do the arithmetic.

  • Kate Richardson

    Must say the ‘coyote as smart business operator’ story, or kids going to be with dad story didn’t quite ring true. Nothing about social injustice in Honduras and Guatemala. Nothing about economic problems. How about interviewing someone with a different point of view? Try Professor Dana Frank professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    • http://www.senorpescador.com/ Senor Pescador

      thanks, I will give him a call

  • Sid Rimmington

    If Obama wants to collect 3rd world peasants, and save them up to vote for him in the future, he should at least have the good manners to have them sterilized first, or we will be up to our neck with Tribbles, and there will be no welfare money left for the real Americans. Maybe they could all move into the White House?

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