Growing up in Honduras, I remember hearing to my mother bring up the idea of migrating to work in the United States whenever she felt desperate and unable to pay the bills, following the example of her sisters. My mother, a Nicaraguan woman, started working at the age of 12 to support her family and dropped out of school by 7th grade.
Later she moved to Honduras at the age of 18 where she met my dad, a Palestinian businessman without any formal education. He had a very strong personality and was raised under the belief that going to school was a waste of time, especially for women. After a lot of pressure and insisting, my mom was able to negotiate with my dad that my three siblings and I could attend school in one of the lowest institutions in the area.
My mom’s basic education didn’t give her access to a job in Honduras to provide enough to raise four children in a safe environment, so she constantly flirted with the idea of migrating to the United States and finding a job that allowed her to provide us a better education and safer conditions away from my dad.
I remember my seven year-old self, begging on my knees and crying when I saw my mom´s bags by the door, asking her to take me too. She said that she had nothing to offer me, to which I answered that I would not mind living under the bridge (an area of extreme poverty in Tegucigalpa) as long as I was with her. Now that I am 27, I know that I really meant what I said.
She didn’t leave, but I am an exception to the thousands of Central American children whose families have been disintegrated due to the phenomenon of migration.
A few weeks ago, we hosted a group of young participants from a Christian Reformed Church in Michigan in the United States. The tour focused on the issue of migration and the root causes that push people to leave their home countries and start a very dangerous trek to the North.
The route to the United States includes many robberies, victims of human trafficking, kidnappings, killings and tremendous accidents. One of the activities we planned for the group was visiting a migrant shelter in Tapachula, México called “El Buen Pastor.” They attended to migrants and helped them with medical assistance, especially for those who have been victims of attacks by robbers or drug cartels, or who have lost a body part riding the La Bestia, a freight train that Central American migrants ride from southern Mexico to the North.
During our conversation with the staff of the shelter, one of them mentioned the fact that they were waiting to receive a woman and her two year-old baby who just had an accident falling from La Bestia, in which she lost her leg and the baby an arm.
At first I was horrified, then angry. I was angry at the savage and sadistic structure that forces people to flee from their home countries and tear their families apart. They have to take all sorts of risks to have access to the leftovers of a life with dignity in the United States.
It is easy to make rushed statements focusing on the tip of the iceberg without fully understanding the reasons why people are forced to leave their countries and are willing to take this life-threatening trip.
The causes that led the 52,000 children last year to flee mainly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are very complex. In a nutshell, these three countries, now considered the epicenter of gangs, are plagued with corruption, impunity, drug trafficking, urban violence, poverty, lack of employment and a police system that has been linked with organized crime operations.
These three countries also have a very unequal distribution of wealth, falling more under the model of an oligarchy than a true democracy. People often are left with the feeling that there is not a safe place to turn and feel hopeless to start a business initiative that competes with the enormous chains of transnational franchises. On the other hand, many business entrepreneurs become victims of extortions and are unable to pay the high “gang taxes.”
The United States government is directing almost four billion dollars to strengthen border security and immigration enforcement, which will not make an impact on the structural causes. Therefore they are unlikely to prevent Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans from fleeing their countries, despite enduring more threats and abuses in their trips up North.
I don’t know the specific conditions that led that woman to ride that train with her two year-old baby, and also don’t know the individual stories of why these 52,000 children were heading North. I only know that our voices should be heard to advocate for a more just and compassionate treatment to our brothers and sisters from Central America who arrive in the United States, and for a response within the Central American countries which includes long-term solutions to address the root causes of migration.
- Send a letter to your members of Congress and to President Obama urging them to ensure that the U.S. government response to Central American migrants coming across our border is compassionate and humane and that any funds directed to Central America governments be focused on finding solutions to address the root causes of migration.