ESCAPE: "Emilio" says he still wants to reach the United States, even after being held hostage by a smuggler. (SANTIAGO BILLY PREM)
His ultimate goal, he says, is “to find a good job to help the family. In Honduras, there are only poor people. People take the risk to leave in order to help the country.”
He and his companions, whom he met up with later, didn’t find a smuggler until they reached the Guatemalan border town of Esquipulas. The smuggler promised to take them all the way to the United States with no up-front payment, but instead he turned them over to the man who later held them hostage. One of Emilio’s companions says the smuggler initially told them it would be “easy” to get into the United States but later hedged.
Emilio is headed for Kansas City, where he has a cousin, his only relative in the United States, he says.
Carbajal, the priest, says he warns migrants who come through the shelter about the dangers that lie ahead. Maps pinned to the lunchroom wall show the areas in Guatemala and Mexico where migrants are subject to being attacked by police, gangs and even taxi drivers. Carbajal says he can’t prevent migrants from continuing that trip. Young migrants like Emilio have “no idea” what they face or even how far the United States is from Guatemala, he adds.
“This is not a well-thought-out migration,” he says. “Everyone just flees.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently announced a “Danger Awareness Campaign” to try to discourage more kids from making the trip. The campaign will include media events in U.S. cities with concentrations of Central Americans, including Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York and Miami. There will be billboards, and public service announcements will run through Sept. 7 in the three countries.
“Children, especially, are easy prey for coyotes and transnational criminal organizations, and they can be subjected to robbery, violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking or forced labor,” CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said in announcing the campaign. On a visit to Guatemala last week, Jeh Johnson repeated a warning that the United State plans to deport new migrants arriving illegally, regardless of age.
Whether such messages will be enough to stop future Emilios is another question, given what they believe lies ahead for them in the United States.
This is what Emilio says he envisions life will be like: “It’s healthy. There’s not too much violence, that we’re going to find a good job. And I think there are not as many people smoking marijuana on the streets and in gangs. I think it’s a healthier environment.
“I imagine that you can have a good home, and you can help your family.”
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting provided support for this report.
FOR FURTHER READING:Child migrant surge, CQ Weekly, p. 744; the 2008 sex-trafficking law is PL 110-457.