what compels the journey?

Image Source: U.S. Border Patrol Statistics

July 18 @ 1p

In the U.S., headlines about a rapidly increasing number of teens and children from Central American countries have been the stuff of news talk, but for my students and their families this is old news. This year, the U.S. government estimates that more than 90,000 children will enter the U.S. by the end of September.

Many of them are first generation Americans whose parents came to the U.S. to escape the destruction, poverty and lack of opportunity in their home countries. For many of my students who are from El Salvador, their parents came to the U.S. to escape a bloody civil war where the only choice was violence — run across the border or join the war. For others, threats and demands of money for protection from bandas, or gangs drove their journey to Washington, D.C. Statistically speaking,

I wanted to do this project because I need to understand the challenges of migration, but also the culture and identities that exist in the home countries of my students’ families. Many of the students at CCPCS, come from the eastern part of the country. Often called El Oriente, the eastern area was the battle ground of El Salvador’s decades-long civil war.

If the challenges Capital City students face are a microcosm of the long-reaching effects of U.S. immigration policy, capitalism and the seduction of globalization, then El Amate is a microcosm of the other side of the story.

Kevin, my coworker, was born in El Amate more than 30 years ago. He estimates that one-third of El Amate’s population is in the U.S. and about two-thirds of El Amate’s residents rely on remissions. In a town where everyone knows everyone else — or seems to be related to each other some kind of way — migration matters.

As I arrived in El Amate, another resident of the small campo was waiting at the U.S.-Mexico border for the remaining sum of money to arrive to pay the coyote who would make an attempt to get him across the border.

While it’s not expensive to live in El Amate, it still costs money to pay the cable, electric and water bills, buy food, groceries, and general things needed to live. While $20 to $100 is the monthly average a household may spend on these bills, that’s still quite a bit of money. Given the opportunity to earn more, not one person in El Amate said they wouldn’t leave if they were to get papers that would take them to the United States legally.

Kevin, my coworker, said that typically a person will pay either $5,000 or $10,000 to get across the U.S.-Mexico border. According to him, each amount buys a person two chances to get across the border. In this business there are no guarantees and regardless of success or failure, the coyotes keep the money.

The first amount, the $5,000, buys a trip on foot, which means spending several weeks walking across the desert, perhaps taking a train, perhaps riding with others crammed into the back of a sweltering van. This is the most dangerous route because women are more vulnerable to sexual assault and both genders are left susceptible to violence.

“If you get lost or separated from the group, you’re pretty much going to die,” Kevin said. While he is given to extremes at times (and loves hyperbole), there is a whole lot of truth to the statement.

If you can summon the $10,000, then “getting into the U.S. is pretty much a guarantee” according to Kevin. Between false documents and a trip by plane, usually a person makes it across.

Much of the Mexican border — and some would argue Mexico itself — is controlled by the Mexican drug cartels. Just as there are contentions over air space (like in the downing of the Malaysian flight allegedly by pro-Russian militants), the coyotes have often made arrangements with these cartels and gangs for safe passage. Some people who become separated from the group for whatever reason, run the risk of being captured by the groups that run the area or caught in the trigger of the violence.

Last year, a student’s mother recounted her migration story through tears as she told a group of educators how she and other women were almost raped by their coyote and the people who were supposed to protect them. She retorted, “No, you’re not! You better leave us alone!”

What she did was no small feat given that often the coyotes are the only ones who know the way. By saying no, she ran the risk of having the coyote leave them in the desert to get lost and possibly die without food, water or guidance and/or become victims of human trafficking.

There are more stories like these and the headlines are swimming in them.

While in the U.S., much of the immigration debate is focused on those who are within the U.S. border, I think that it’s time we also start to think about how our policies affect those on the other side of the fences we’ve built.

Next blog post, I’ll talk about the other side.

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