Notas sobre migración en The New York Times

[The New York Times]
Rush to Deport Young Migrants Could Trample Asylum Claims


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In Mexico, a Stalled Journey

While thousands of child migrants from Central America have crossed the Rio Grande to U.S. soil, thousands more don’t make it that far. Many end up detained or broke in towns like Reynosa, Mexico.

Video Credit By Brent McDonald on Publish Date July 19, 2014.
HARLINGEN, Tex. — The first time her aunt in Mexico took her out at night, the young teenager was told they were headed to a party.

It was no party. “It was trafficking people, drug dealers,” she recalled. “I just saw a lot of guys. They had guns. I was in shock. I was shaking. The more I was saying no, the more they treated me badly.”

It was the start of a dark ordeal for Andrea H., a Honduran then living in a Mexican border city. Her own relatives, associates of Mexican drug cartel bosses, forced her into prostitution. She was 13.

After two years she ran away, seeking safety in the United States. She tried twice, crossing the Rio Grande, scrambling over fences and hiding in cactus brush in black swarms of mosquitoes. Twice she was caught by the Border Patrol.

But when agents questioned her, Andrea did not tell them why she had fled. Thinking back to those encounters in an interview last week, Andrea recalled the chill she had felt facing uniformed agents in bleak holding cells at a Border Patrol station within earshot of other migrants she did not know — perhaps with ties to the cartels.

CRACKDOWN Central American migrants on a freight train near Mexico’s southern border, which officials plan to secure. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

“I was just trying to protect myself, and I was not saying anything to no one,” she said. Twice she agreed to leave voluntarily and was returned to Mexico.

In an unprecedented surge, more than 57,000 young migrants coming without their parents, most from Central America, have been apprehended at the southwest border since October. Administration officials and lawmakers in Congress want to stem the influx by speeding up reviews to determine whether they should be deported.

“We have to show that if you do not qualify for some form of humanitarian relief under our laws, you must be sent home,” Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, said at a Senate hearing this month.

But interviews over the last week with many young migrants like Andrea who made the journey to the border suggest the risks of accelerating initial screenings.

Minors questioned shortly after being caught in locations, like Border Patrol stations, where they may feel unsafe often do not disclose dangers at home or abuses suffered during their journey, lawyers who are counseling them say. They are disoriented, wary of strangers and sometimes traumatized, and they have little understanding of the legal process.

“Many children would be sent back to harm,” said Jonathan Ryan, executive director of Raices, a legal-services organization in San Antonio that has conducted in-depth screenings of more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors in an emergency shelter at Lackland Air Force Base. “We would have their names here, and the morgue in Tegucigalpa will have the bodies down there,” he said, referring to the capital of Honduras.

Mr. Ryan and other advocates who have conducted deeper screenings of more than 3,000 Central American minors this year in shelters in Texas found that at least half could present viable claims for visas.

Andrea H. from Honduras, first came as a teenager. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

In the case of Andrea H., the full story of her abuse emerged long after her brief screenings by the Border Patrol. The agents who questioned her not only failed to discover that she was a victim of sex trafficking but also returned her to Mexico, missing the key fact that she is Honduran.

“I was just afraid of everything, after all those things those guys had been doing to my body,” she said, speaking by telephone to the offices in this border city of the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, whose lawyers represented her in immigration court.

On a third attempt she succeeded in crossing illegally into Texas, eventually confiding in those lawyers and anti-trafficking investigators. Now 18 and living in Texas, Andrea asked that her full name not be published because she still fears some relatives. This year, she won a special immigration status for juveniles.

Debate in Washington has centered on a 2008 anti-trafficking law. Obama administration officials and some lawmakers from both parties are seeking to extend the fast-track screenings the law allows for unaccompanied youths from Mexico, using them for Central Americans as well.

Policy makers proposing to change the law say they want to strike a fair balance, creating tougher deterrents to reduce the illegal surge while preserving the country’s traditions of protecting people fleeing violence, especially children.

Bills were offered last week by two Texans, Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, and Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat; by two House Republicans, Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Jason Chaffetz of Utah; and by the senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans.

Under the current statute, minors from Mexico must be interviewed by border agents within 48 hours after they are apprehended. If a Mexican minor does not express fear of returning home, agents can obtain his or her consent to leave voluntarily. Since October, more than 12,600 unaccompanied Mexicans were apprehended along the southwest border, and most were swiftly returned. For minors from other countries, the law requires their transfer within 72 hours to detention shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Refugee officials work to find parents or other adults in this country who can care for them while they go through deportation proceedings. They receive basic guidance on their legal rights, and in some shelters volunteer lawyers interview them to assess their legal prospects.

Minors can be eligible for a special juvenile status if they have been abused or abandoned by family; for asylum if they face life-threatening persecution; and for visas as victims or witnesses of serious crimes or human trafficking.

Homeland Security officials said 87 percent of those cases opened in the last five years are unresolved. Last year, about 1,800 unaccompanied Central American minors were deported, the officials said.

Just over the border in Reynosa, Mexico, a clean and orderly shelter run by the Mexican child-welfare agency is filled with unaccompanied young migrants, including some from Central America who had been detained by the Mexican police before they reached the Rio Grande.

They were girls wearing low-cut tops and boys in black T-shirts with tattoos and buzz cuts. On a day when the shelter offered free telephone calls to their parents, many burst into tears.

“I feel sad because when you speak with your mother, you realize how far away she is and you can’t hug her,” said Alberto Rosales, 17, a Salvadoran with a spiky haircut and tears rolling down his face. His mother was at home in El Salvador.

The youths told stories of hopeless poverty and criminal gang violence that they say drove them to leave, and family living in the United States who urged them to come. Most of them probably would not have qualified to stay in the United States if they had made it.

A few said they had faced direct threats. Mr. Rosales said he had left home after a street gang moved into his neighborhood and gave him a choice: Join, leave or die. His mother paid smugglers to guide him to join three brothers living in the United States, including one American citizen.

Kevyn Merida traveled 12 days from Guatemala to enter the United States illegally. Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

The children spoke almost casually of dangers they had seen on the road. A 14-year-old Salvadoran boy, José Jonás Ramírez, said he had been kidnapped from a bus station in Guatemala and held for three weeks while his captors pressed him to hand over the money he intended to pay smugglers. They released him after taking everything he had, including his shoes.

A 13-year-old Salvadoran girl said she and her sister had been taken off a bus by gunmen in a Mexican town and forced to kneel in a muddy field while gunmen pushed rifles into their backs. The girl, Laura Melissa Morales Orellana, said the men had debated whether to rape them but finally only robbed them. She said she had been abandoned by both parents when she was a baby. Her story might have qualified her for protection in the United States.

But the youths were not thinking about legal papers. José Ramírez said his mother had moved to the United States when he was 3.

“I just want to see my mother,” he said. “That is my dream.”

In Texas, one young man who made an illegal crossing unaccompanied remembered his first days in the United States.

Kevyn Merida, 22, said he had fled from his home in Guatemala after Mexican drug traffickers, seeking to expand into his country, tried to enlist him as a courier. Two close friends of his were murdered by traffickers. Mr. Merida was also fleeing severe abuse at home. He came in 2009, one of the first in the wave of unaccompanied minors.

Mr. Merida said he told nothing of his history to the Border Patrol officer who caught him less than an hour after he rafted across the Rio Grande.

“You can’t talk to them,” he said last week. “They are just trying to throw you back again.”

But after a week in a health department detention shelter in Harlingen, he said, he watched a presentation about his legal rights and later met a lawyer from Mr. Ryan’s organization. “I felt comfortable talking to them,” he said. “I changed my mind and decided to tell the truth.”

Mr. Merida went to immigration court and was granted a green card. He graduated from high school and is getting ready to join the Marines.

“It is a happiness I can’t describe in words,” he said.

Brent McDonald and Laura Tillman contributed reporting from Reynosa, Mexico.

A version of this article appears in print on July 20, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Rush to Deport Could Hamper Minors’ Claims

Central American Leaders to Meet Obama on Migrants


WASHINGTON — President Obama has summoned the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to the White House next week in an effort to demonstrate high-level cooperation to stanch the flow of migrant children from Central America through Mexico and into the United States.

The White House said late Friday that Mr. Obama will meet with the three leaders next Friday, a high-profile gathering that comes as the administration struggles to win approval in Congress for $3.7 billion to expand border security, add immigration judges and care for the 57,000 unaccompanied children who have arrived since last fall.

White House officials on Friday said that there is some evidence that the flood of child migrants across the border may be receding. The average number of children crossing the border declined to about 120 per day at the beginning of this week from 283 per day in mid-June, officials said.

But officials concede that they do not know if that trend will continue. And the surge of Central American migrants, including the children, has become a humanitarian border crisis and a political headache for the president, who intends to exert his executive authority later this summer to reduce deportations of illegal immigrants already in this country.

Mr. Obama’s critics have seized on the new border crisis as evidence of the administration’s failure to secure the southern border with Mexico. But the roots of the new surge in migration begin farther south, in the three violence-wracked countries of Central America whose leaders will be in Washington next week.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said in a statement on Friday that the three leaders will discuss ways to “promote safe, legal and orderly migration between our countries in a spirit of shared responsibility, including with respect to the return of family units, which began this week for all three countries.”

That discussion, which is likely to take place in the Oval Office, could be a tricky one for the president, who has vowed that migrants from Central America and their children who do not have legitimate humanitarian claims should be processed quickly and sent back to their home countries.

In the past, the three presidents, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, have pledged their support for efforts to stem the flow of migrants north from their countries. In conversations between the three presidents and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. earlier this month, the three Central American presidents said they would work in partnership with the United States to secure their own borders.

But even as Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden seek help from the Central American presidents, they are under pressure from members of the Democratic Party in the United States not to undermine the rights that children have to seek asylum. In a meeting this week, Hispanic lawmakers urged the president not to give in on that principle.

After that meeting, several lawmakers said that Mr. Obama promised not to undermine the migrant children’s basic rights to due process. But White House officials have said they remain committed to persuading Congress to provide the secretary of homeland security new flexibility to allow the cases to be processed faster.

Lawmakers in the United States are set to leave soon on their summer recess, and it remains unclear whether the divided Congress will act on Mr. Obama’s requests.

Regardless, a White House official said Friday that Mr. Obama would tell the Central American presidents that the migrant crisis could not be solved without the help of the children’s home countries.

“We want to make sure that we have buy-in from the leaders of the Central American countries,” said a White House official, who spoke on background to discuss planning for the meeting.

Aides said the talks were arranged in the last 10 days, as the crisis drew international attention and protests erupted in several cities where busloads of children were arriving.

Mr. Biden traveled to Central America to meet with the three presidents in June, but officials said that Mr. Obama decided that the border issue was too complicated and too important to leave to long-distance diplomacy. The meeting in Washington, they said, was intended in part to pressure Congress to pass the funding and legal changes that the president wants.

“A big part of this is sending a message to Congress that the president is going to work with Central American countries to get something done here,” the White House official said. “Congress should take note of the fact that the president is very serious about this issue.”

Officials said they were encouraged by the news that the number of children arriving in the United States appeared to be dropping. According to the White House, 1,985 unaccompanied children crossed the border from June 22 through 28. That number dropped to 977 two weeks later, from July 6 through 12, and was 362 in the three days of July 13 through 15.

“We believe the downward trend can be attributed to a number of factors, to include steps taken by the president to address the issue and the weather-related declines we’ve seen during the same time period in past years,” said Shawn Turner, a White House spokesman. “We know that they are not necessarily due to any single factor.”

A version of this article appears in print on July 19, 2014, on page A3 of the New York edition with the headline: Central American Leaders to Meet Obama on Migrants

Trying to Slow the Illegal Flow of Young Migrants


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Honduras Cracks Down on Illegal Immigrants

CreditIan Willms for The New York Times

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — The wave of Central American child migrants heading to the United States in recent months, feeding a humanitarian crisis there, is showing some signs of abating.

Bus operators here say they are noticing a decline in the number of unaccompanied children headed to the border. The police have detained fewer young migrants at checkpoints. And the United States Border Patrol has reported a dip in the number of children and families apprehended in Texas, where migrants have been arriving in droves for months.

Since October, about 57,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended across the southwest border, double the number during a similar period the previous year.

It is too soon to say definitively whether the mass migration has relented, but officials are hopeful that it may be slowing as new efforts by the authorities to stop the flow take root and as word spreads about the perils of the journey to the United States, where migrants are unlikely to find legal refuge.

A police officer at a checkpoint in Honduras. Many migrants leave from the bus station in San Pedro Sula for all points north, including the United States. Credit Ian Willms for The New York Times

“It has gone down about 30 percent, the number of children we see passing through here,” said Marvin Lopez, a manager of one of the most commonly used bus lines here. “Not nearly as many families.”

At a police substation on the road to the border with Guatemala, which is about a 45-minute ride from the bus station, officers said that they had been detaining 15 to 20 minors a day in recent months, but that in the past couple of weeks it had dropped to two or three.

One night last week, María Enríquez was one of two women who were detained with their children when officers stopped the truck, with Guatemala license plates, in which they were traveling without appropriate documents for the children.

“I was just taking him to his father in Guatemala, but now I guess we just have to go home,” said Ms. Enríquez, the mother of a 1-year-old boy. “They are saying nobody can go north unless both parents go, but how can we do this when so many of us are single parents here?”

Children Illegally Crossing the Border Alone

The number of unaccompanied minors has surged in the last three years, mainly driven by a huge influx of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. As of June 15, nearly 40,000 children from the three countries – about three-quarters of the total – crossed the U.S. border illegally.

Honduras, the source of the largest proportion of recent child migrants, has moved to make it harder for children to leave the country without authorization. It has forbidden the sale to minors of bus tickets to the border and assigned additional police officers, including a specially trained unit, to patrol bus routes and frequent border crossing points.

Some migrants may be veering off the beaten path to try more remote and perilous routes, traversing rivers and slipping through dense forest and brush where officers patrol less often. They are motivated to flee this city, which gang violence and deep poverty have made one of the most dangerous in the world, by false rumors that they can get legal papers to reside in the United States.

But many of the potential migrants, who would take a succession of buses and trains north, said recently that they had heard the chances of making it to the United States were decreasing.

Last week, the Border Patrol station in McAllen, Tex., reported decreasing numbers of people in detention. About 500 migrants were being held last week, compared with double that number most days in June.

Victoria Cordova and her daughter, Genesis, were deported from the United States and have returned to their dangerous neighborhood in Tegucigalpa. Credit Ian Willms for The New York Times The Border Patrol chief for the Rio Grande Valley, Kevin W. Oaks, said at a news conference Thursday that the flow of unaccompanied minors had dropped in the past two weeks from 200 apprehended most days last month to only 80 last Wednesday.

In addition, the United States began a new effort last week to speed deportations of parents with children who had recently crossed, sending 80 people aboard two planes back to Honduras, and other flights to Guatemala and El Salvador.

Many people who are deported vow to try again, and many do, often several times before they reach the United States. But some of the people who traveled recently with children, and the children themselves, said they were surprised by the difficulty and expenses of the trek.

“I will never do it again,” said Victoria Cordova, 30, who was deported from the United States last week with her 9-year-old daughter. She recalled a harrowing journey that included overcrowded shelters in the United States with little to eat and a confusing stream of paperwork to sign, including a document in English that she did not understand but signed anyway.

[] Play Video|4:03
In Mexico, a Stalled Journey

While thousands of child migrants from Central America have crossed the Rio Grande to U.S. soil, thousands more don’t make it that far. Many end up detained or broke in towns like Reynosa, Mexico.

Video Credit By Brent McDonald on Publish Date July 19, 2014.

After signing the paper in a shelter in New Mexico, she said, she and several other women with children were told they would be boarding a plane back to Honduras, leading many of them to break down into tears.

Ms. Cordova has since returned to her home in a dangerous neighborhood in Tegucigalpa. She worries most now about repaying the $6,000 cost for the trip that she borrowed from neighbors, including gang members expecting quick repayment, though she is unemployed.

Other people, children among them, who were sent back from Mexico, where the authorities have also stepped up deportations, said they would like to try again to emigrate but had no money and were daunted by the journey.

“I wanted to be with my dad, but the trip is too long and hard,” said Aidan, 13, who left a shelter here with his grandparents after he was deported from Mexico last week.

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Children’s Journey

Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Orlin Flores, 14, was trying to reunite with his parents in California but was apprehended a few days into his trip and deported from Mexico.

“I’m not sure if I could do it again; it was scary, and I didn’t have the money to pay all the cops to let me go,” Orlin said, making reference to the bribes many migrants must pay along their illegal journey.

Mexico has said it will take action to slow the migrant flow, pledging to stop people from stowing away on freight trains, a common tactic to head north, and to increase patrols of its border. It promised steps to reduce corruption of police officers but has not provided details.

Guatemala said it had increased the number of police officers and soldiers at its borders. El Salvador began a public awareness campaign aimed at deterring parents from sending their children north alone, and it is planning to redouble efforts to arrest smugglers.

Still, people who provide services to returning migrants here said they believed that many would find ways around new law enforcement obstacles. Many of the deportees and advocates for them are skeptical that the government will follow through on pledges of scholarship money and jobs to keep people from fleeing.

“They will migrate again unless there is something here for them, jobs and schools and a lack of violence,” said Sor Valdette Willeman, director of the Center for Assistance to Migrants, the nongovernmental organization in Honduras that assists deportees at airports. “I am afraid without those things they will eventually try again.”

Correction: July 22, 2014

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a woman who was detained near the border of Guatemala. She is María Enríquez, not Maria Enriques.

Julia Preston contributed reporting from McAllen, Tex.

A version of this article appears in print on July 21, 2014, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Trying to Slow the Illegal Flow of Young Migrants

Video: In Mexico, a Stalled Journey:

Video: The Immigration Debate’s Twin Issues:


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