The Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration isn’t doing much to deter new arrivals.
A New York Times special focusing on Guatemalan migrants outlines the plight of Central American families, many of whom are willing to risk deportation in order to escape extreme poverty and widespread violence.
Liset Juarez’s husband, writes the Times, was one such migrant.
Six months ago, the unnamed, anonymous man left his wife and three children behind in Concepcion Chiquirichapa, Guatemala. With a single, small bag in tow, Juarez set off on a 1,200-mile trip to the United States border.
Arrest is the last concern for many migrants, who are forced to contend with ‘unscrupulous smugglers, dangerous desert crossings and possible kidnapping by deadly Mexican drug cartels.’
But Juarez, like many of his countrymen, felt he had few other options.
“What can we do?” asked Liset Juarez. “We have to feed our children.”
He’s just one of “thousands of Guatemalans who have ignored a messaging campaign of billboards and radio and TV ads by the American and Guatemalan governments that warn against the dangerous journey to the United States.”
The Times says that in the past year alone, about 42,757 Guatemalans traveling as families were apprehended, detained or otherwise stopped at the United States border with Mexico.
Guatemalans account for about half of all migrants who try to enter the United States with relatives. And despite the Trump administration’s promises to build a wall and lower entries, the numbers have only been going up.
The reason, recounts the Times, is simple: poverty.
‘About 76 percent of the population in Guatemala’s western highlands is impoverished, and 67 percent of children younger than 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition,’ the paper reports.
In September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan visited the country on a tour of Central America, a region which constitutes the bulk of illegal immigrants detained at the southwestern border.
McAleenan said there’s no way law enforcement alone can stop attempted entries.
So, along with boosting border security, the agency and United States government is investing in development. About $200 million is earmarked for development projects in the Guatemalan highlands.
The governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have, comparatively, spent just over $1 million on a campaign intended to educate the poor on the dangers of heading north. Misconceptions abound, too, prompting McAleenan to stress the importance of ensuring that families know the United States doesn’t offer any ‘guarantee to stay’ for families or pregnant women.
The Times says the Guatemalan government has even started an initiative that’d offer rewards to citizens who turn in ‘coyotes,’ or people smugglers.
But that hasn’t been easy.
“No one will turn them in, because within the community they are not seen as bad people,” said 27-year old Dora Alonzo, who runs an organization aimed at preventing illegal youth migration to America. “But everyone knows who they are.”
Alonzo, who has family in the United States, says no campaign is likely to deter the most desperate migrants.
Having a good life abroad, she says, negates the risk of trying to get there.
“That is the way to have a house and a car,” she said.