Deporting the Heart

Deporting the Heart
America Magazine

Daniel G. Groody

Unaccompanied child migrants and the globalization of indifference

There is a story, often quoted in church circles, about a man who lived near a river. One morning he went to get some water and saw a body floating downstream. He dove in, rescued the body, pulled it to shore and gave it a proper burial. Two days later, he went for water again and saw three more bodies floating down the river. He pulled them out and buried them. A week later, there were even more bodies, then more burials. As this trend continued over time, he realized his efforts at burying the dead were not enough. He sought long-term solutions and began looking upstream to understand why the bodies were floating down river in the first place.

Today one of the strongest northward flowing currents is not in the Bighorn, Shenandoah or Nile rivers but in the surge of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the U.S. border. A river of desperate children is flooding this country’s overwhelmed immigration system. Between 2004 and 2011 about 6,800 unaccompanied minors traveled across the U.S.-Mexico border each year. The number jumped to 13,000 in 2012 and to 24,000 in 2013. By the end of this year, more than 90,000 unaccompanied minors could flow up to the U.S. borders from countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

What is happening upstream that is causing such a massive influx of children? Many of these children are coming because of the mistaken belief in their home countries that the United States is giving away green cards, that amnesty is in the works for young people, that there is a free pass for unaccompanied minors. But these reasons account for only a trickle in the river. The real explanation is much more complex.

In November 2013 I was part of a delegation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugees Services Committee that journeyed “upstream” to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to look at this issue in greater depth. Meeting with high-level government officials and church workers on the ground, especially those from Catholic Relief Services, we received a firsthand look at the root causes for why children are coming north. Given the enormous financial and human cost of reaching the U.S. border, it is amazing they are coming at all.

Up the River: Riding La Bestia

Unaccompanied minors coming from Central America first face a perilous trek to the Guatemala-Mexico border. If they are lucky enough to get into Mexico, they still have a long journey ahead of them. With scarce financial resources, these children—along with pregnant women and many others—hop on freight trains to travel as far as 1,500 miles. This train system is known as La Bestia (“the Beast”) or El Tren de La Muerte (“the Train of Death”).

Many lose arms and legs jumping on and off these trains. Some are jolted onto the tracks and fall to their deaths. All are easy targets for harassment, robbery and assaults by violent gangs that systematically prey on these vulnerable migrants for profit. Eighty percent will be robbed and 60 percent of the women will be raped.

Continue reading HERE