Fri, Jan 04, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Deaths highlight plight of children in migrant surge

AFP, NENTON, Guatemala

A man holds his son next to a section of the wall separating Mexico and the US at Playas Tijuana in Mexico on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

The death of two Guatemalan children in the US within weeks of each other has highlighted why there are so many children among Central American migrants heading north: Smugglers tell them families have a better chance of being allowed in by US border guards, witnesses told reporters.

Agustin Gomez was one such migrant who decided to risk the trip.

Gomez’s relatives in his western, mainly indigenous municipality of Nenton near the Mexican border said that he had heard rumors that bringing along his eight-year-old son Felipe Gomez might ease his way.

Felipe Gomez died in a New Mexico hospital on Christmas Day, only a week after they were both detained by Texas border guards after crossing the border illegally.

US authorities investigating the case say Felipe Gomez died after presenting with flu symptoms.

Just two weeks earlier, Guatemala had been rocked by the death of seven-year-old indigenous girl Jakelin Caal, admitted to hospital suffering from dehydration.

She made the journey alongside her 29-year-old father Nery from the Mayan town of Raxruha in northern Guatemala.

Although the surge of Guatemalan migrants to the US-Mexico border is caused largely by the country’s dire poverty and violence, Guatemalan migration activist Roxana Palma said there are messages circulating on social media that carrying children gives a greater “guarantee” of establishing themselves in the US.

There seems little doubt that the main spur for the migrants is abject poverty at home, but taking children with them is also a way for their parents to prevent them being recruited by gangs, migration experts said.

Smugglers — nicknamed “Coyotes” — blatantly lie about immigration procedures in the US and do little for migrants beyond holding out the prospect of a better life, Palma said.

“Unfortunately, they are the ones who misinform people about how to get to the United States ‘safely,’” she said.

Another expert said that “there was special treatment for parents who came with children” to the US under former US president Barack Obama’s administration, but that ended with US President Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House.

“The smugglers continue to say that you can enter with children; that’s no longer valid,” said the expert, who requested anonymity to be able to speak freely about the subject.

“We are also seeing how networks of coyotes recruit, how they make people pay and then deceive them,” Central American Institute of Development and Social Studies coordinator Danilo Rivera said.

Rivera said they are aware of cases in western Guatemala where networks use local radio to make announcements of false offers of visas and travel to the US “immediately and safely.”

Guatemalan authorities “aren’t doing a lot” to thwart this false and misleading travel information, nor do they do enough to root out the causes of emigration, Rivera said.

The majority of Guatemalan migrants sent back by Mexico and the US come from western Guatemala, the country’s poorest region, International Migration Organization studies have found.

Pascual Domingo’s father and two brothers, who previously set out from Felipe Gomez’s home village of Yalambojoch, managed to get to the US and now send money to the family back home.

“All those who go there, it is because they have no money, because they can’t find any work,” Domingo said.

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