24 Jul 2014

On the Hispanic child migrant trail

The river boatman tells us how to identify the migrants at the illegal border crossing. They have new backpacks, smart clothes, and often, a coat tied around their waists. It’s far too hot to wear a coat. It’s more than 40 degrees at the crossing between Guatemala and Mexico.

You don’t need a coat, unless you’re heading a long way north. And migrants he says don’t wear flip-flops. You can’t journey nearly a thousand miles in flip-flops.

Stand at the crossing near Tapachula for a day or two, and you can learn a lot about the surge of illegal immigrants pouring into the US.

Wait long enough, and you’ll start to spot children and teenagers from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, more often than not in the company of a smuggler.

Read more: US immigrants are more than just numbers

We saw a girl as young as 10 or 11 being handed, man to man, from the bus station in Guatemala onto the river raft, and then hopping to the bank, to be ushered into a rickshaw and pedaled into the night.

More than 50,000 children have made the journey without their parents from Central America into the United States since November, for many reasons;  some to escape increasing violence in Honduras, where those who have fled told us of gangs with a violent chokehold on their neighbourhoods. Threatening to rape them and kill their children, unless they hand over half their family’s salaries, or their houses, or join the gang.

Others go to join family members, mothers or fathers, who are already in the US, already bartered across the border for a life in the land of opportunity.

Some explained that increased security on the border with Texas has made it harder for the adults to come back to Central America to visit their families, and so they are sending for their children instead.

Read more: the demographics that got Obama re-elected

For a perfect storm, combine these factors with swirling rumours proclaimed by opportunistic smugglers that if you hurry now, right now, the US is letting in, without the threat of deportation, children on their own/young mothers and babies/anyone with family inside America.

One smuggler waiting for the train in Arriaga told us how he tells his teenage charges never to sign the deportation papers, and then they’ll be able to stay.

He described an underworld of networks, run by the mafia, and paid thousands of dollars by poor families, to bring their children to the border. He had three teenagers in his care – he said he looked after them well, but conceded some ended up robbed, kidnapped, raped or dead, if they were unlucky in their choice of smuggler.

In a shelter, on the Mexican side of the border, activist Ramon Verduga described not an immigration problem, but a humanitarian crisis.

A thousand miles to the north, those who see it that way are being drowned out by the many who see the surge as evidence only of the need for one almighty wall, to fence the US off from its impoverished neighbours.

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3 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    A fine report of the standard and quality missing for many years from C4 News reporting of the USA.

    Too often we got the utter nonsense of an “American Dream” – as if the hopes of immigrants are any different whether they are crossing the Rio Grande or the Mediterranean. All they seek at the risk of their lives is something better than they presently endure.

    There’s nothing dream-like about it. And the USA is as lousy at delivering it as Western Europe. All it delivers is cheap(er) labour, without which the present socioeconomic system would collapse. That is the reality of
    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

    The USA, like all other European colonies, was built on the backs of, and is maintained by, slavery. The difference these days is that the shackles are not made of cast iron. The “golden door” hides the impoverished misery lurking behind it.

  2. Anne Forrest says:

    Another brilliant report via Channel 4 News, thank you! But if drugs were legalised from growing – pharmaceuticals – to counter at a chemist in boring packaging the whole thing would be resolved, surely???

  3. neilbodman says:

    Globalisation and internet access to the world is further driving movements of adults and children. This is a safeguarding issue which requires parity across nations to protecting children and responding to risks. Home countries need greater accountability and financial penalties alongside more effective controls at borders.

    There will be no open border policy for children so the question rests on ‘how can vulnerable children be protected from parents making unsafe decisions and why those decisions are being made’

    action plan

    1. legislative changes across countries in their safeguarding procedures and legal responsibilities
    2. states receive significant financial penalties
    3. smugglers receive substantial prison sentences
    4. borders are more closely monitored with specialist child safeguarding workers to assess each child and develop a safety plan

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