Recent events in Europe and the Middle East have pushed the border stories down a notch. But immigrants from Central America are still flooding into the US. Children and youth (and women) are fleeing corrupt and impoverished Central American nations. From Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador they are streaming through Mexico across the border into Texas. Many parents believe they are sending their offspring to the American Dream, but the children are living a nightmare. They are riding atop freight trains. They are preyed on by gangs. On arrival they are staying in overcrowded public facilities while they await deportation hearings.
The nightmare begins by walking for days to Arriaga, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. There they scramble to the roof of a freight train called La Bestia (The Beast). Every two or three days this “train of death” departs for the two-week ride to the US border, filled with freight and covered with young imago Dei humans hoping for a better life.
Parents believe they are sending their offspring off to the American Dream … but the children are living a nightmare
The Mexican poet and environmentalist Homero Aridjis writes of the horrors of the journey:
Along the way pregnant women, mothers with infants, teenagers and adults will sleep on the streets or, if lucky, in makeshift or more permanent church-run shelters. During the long journey, accidents often happen, and passengers tumbling off the roof have their limbs severed. An aid group in Honduras has counted more than 450 migrants who have returned mutilated. Derailments are common, with cars flying off the tracks, leading to injuries and death.
Murders, muggings, extortions, gang rapes of women and kidnappings (some 20,000 a year) are committed by the rapidly expanding Central American Mara Salvatrucha gangs or by Mexican drug traffickers such as the bloodthirsty Zetas. They often infiltrate the groups of travelling migrants on the trains or in shelters, selling them drugs, tricking girls into prostitution, luring boys into gangs or murdering perceived informers. And at each stop, the migrants are prey to local police, who demand bribes up to several hundred dollars a head in exchange for allowing them to continue on their way.
(The above quote and particulars come from Homero Aridjis writing for The World Post. Go here for the full article.)
For those who make it to the US, the nightmare continues. The children are crowded into unused or underused public and military facilities. There they wait to be processed. Will they qualify to stay? Will their American Dream stay alive? Or will they be repatriated to their home country? The average wait time to find out is two years.
Here’s a personal glimpse of this crisis through the eyes of a Honduran woman named Miriam. She is a friend of my wife, Marilyn, who travels twice yearly to two very poor communities in rural Honduras.
Some years ago Marilyn started a program in these communities to help keep children in school. One young girl who benefited was Miriram’s daughter, Nancy. Instead of dropping out after the 6th grade and getting pregnant, Nancy stayed in class and graduated from high school. After graduation, Nancy married. The couple moved to the capital city, Tegusegalpa, where Nancy’s husband had a job. Nancy gave birth. Then Nancy’s husband lost his job. Desperate, he joined the migration of illegal immigrants to the US to look for work. Now, Nancy has told her mother that she is following the flood of immigrants to rejoin her husband and pursue the American Dream. Miriam is heartbroken and sick with worry for the safety of her daughter and four-month-old grandaughter.
My good friend, Lyd Pensado, lives and serves among the poor in Mexico City. Besides the local population, Lyd is ministering to the Central American women and children traveling through Mexico pursuing the American Dream. Some of them find themselves in the immigration detention center in Mexico City. Lyd reports her own experience and insights into the plight of those seeking to immigrate:
A year ago we started visiting the immigration detention station in Mexico City. Every Saturday we have an art therapy activity to start conversations and establish a relationship with the women, children and teenagers. This gives us an opportunity to hear many stories about their trip from the southern border. Some of these stories are very sad. Some women have left their babies or schooling for the “American Dream”.
After spending 2 or 3 weeks at the station, they feel completely demoralized; sadly, this is now the opportune time to help them realize that to migrate is not the best option. It is not the solution.
Having been in El Salvador, we understand more about their reality and worldview. Many of them have a relative in the USA and have received goods from there. This makes their lives easier and many of the Salvadorans don’t make more effort to develop their country or improve their life; they just live with money sent by somebody in the USA.
Now when we say ideas have consequences, I have a clear example. When people have other options but choose the “easy way” (the idea that it is easy to make money in another country), even when this means leaving their family and taking risks (some die on the way), it is painful. The choice of working hard and living simply is not easy, but what if more people began thinking like this? What if churches helped to develop their country? What if our preaching were more holistic?
We continue looking for more partners — churches in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua — to work together to prevent immigration based on the American Dream. We need to join efforts to increase the possibilities of livelihood in their own countries. I am always very surprised by all of the creativity that we have as Latinos; we take something old and we change it into something that we can use again. Why can’t we do that to develop our countries? What makes us limit ourselves?
Lyd and her team are ministering to those who have fled the poverty of their own communities. At the same time, she is trying to bring hope, and a vision, for the rebuilding and development of their own nations.
In other words, the solutions to this crisis include two streams of effort. One is to bring relief to the current suffering of migrating humans. The other is to help them understand the Creator’s principles which could lead their nation to flourishing.
Many people have a heart for the plight of the migrants pursuing the American Dream. All who do need to engage hearts of compassion AND minds for solutions to the poverty of these people, solutions that really work.
Good intentions are not enough. Neither is inattentiveness and inaction. Our time and our money are needed. We have the opportunity to support the people suffering the nightmare. We also can help those who are seeking to import the ideas and vision that produced the “American Dream” into the impoverished nations of the south.
– Darrow Miller