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Central American youths caught long before they reach the United States

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Central American Migrant WorkersBecause the United States is often seen as a land of opportunities, some are willing to risk their lives to cross the US-Mexico border. Many adults from Mexico and Central America hope to be able to earn a lucrative income in the United States to send back home in order to give their family a better life. Some immigrants bring their families to the United States, while others leave them behind. In recent years, it seems that a new trend has emerged. More youngsters have started crossing the border alone. Sometimes they let their families know of their plans in advance, and other times they just leave. These teenagers are coming from different regions of Mexico and Central America. Some have worked from a young age in the fields as street vendors or alongside their parents. They work to help supplement their family’s income, but the little they earn is not enough. Immigrant children are attracted to the United States as well because it represents the possibility of a better life than the one they are usually living. They know that the workload may be just as hard or sometimes harder, but a life in the United States represents a new beginning. In order to reach the US, the Central American youths must first get to Mexico where dangers undoubtedly await them. They are entering the country illegally and risk deportation by the Mexican authorities. Figures show that deportations of youth in Mexico are on the rise. In fact, Mexico deported nearly 3,800 unaccompanied youths in 2005 who had the intention of reaching the U.S. via Mexico. This can be  compared to the less than 700 unaccompanied youths detained in 2003. The Mexican and American governments have stepped up their efforts to detain illegal immigrants and continue to detain prospective illegal immigrants in greater numbers.

Some of the dangers immigrants may face on their way to Mexico and the United States include robbery, rape, and even death. Not surprisingly, because youths are more likely to be less prepared and self-aware than adult immigrants, youths are more likely to become victims of crime. Reportedly, Mexican authorities have previously targeted youths due to their vulnerability. One17-year-old male claimed that a Mexican police officer beat him and stole all his clothing when he was a few miles into Mexico. Wanting to return back to Central America, the young man turned himself into immigration officials the following day. Shelter for the young detainees also presents a problem, as there is a shortage of facilities in Mexico. Although the Mexican government  has set up a shelter to give children a place to stay so that they are not in the streets, the 50 bed facility is often filled to capacity. To accommodate more detainees, the shelter sometimes sets up additional mattresses on the floor. Other youth who are detained by Mexican authorities sometimes are bused into Agua Caliente, a bordering Guatemalan city. With no shelter nearby and far from home, some youths cross into Mexico again. Agua Caliente lacks shelter and authorities to provide security. In fact, the nearest shelter is nearly 20 miles away in Quetzaltenango.  In addition to reports of corrupt officials and lack of safe detention facilities for youth,  other dangers also lurk for immigrants on their way to the US. Gangs are on the lookout for migrating youths who have run out of funds and are ashamed of returning home. The youths are sometimes forced into prostitution or some other type of labor. There is also the possibility that they may be forced into gang life.

Shelters are often at maximum capacity and officials face the pressure of having to make more space available to incoming detainees. Thus, authorities are pressed for time, and sometimes even verifying the identity of the parents picking up the child detainee poses a challenge. Moreover, Mexican immigration officials have limited time to assess the children on why they attempted to cross the border. Thus, officials are not able to assess whether turning over the child to the parent is safe. However, the Guatemalan and Mexican governments established an agreement in which child detainees are bused to the Quetzaltenango shelter twice a week. There, adequate staff is on hand to take custody of the children. There currently is no such agreement between the Mexican and Honduran government. Nonetheless, for those unaccompanied youths who do make it through Mexico, they face yet greater challenges in their attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year alone, the United States detained nearly 6,500 illegal immigrants who were unaccompanied minors. These individuals were sent to government shelters. However, this does not appear to be a source of discouragement.  Like adults, youth remain determined to get across the border and will sometimes risk everything.  They are somewhat comforted by the fact that many others have successfully crossed the border because this proves that getting across is not an impossible journey. Border security measures continue to improve yet the desire for a better life, whether young or old, still remains.

Disclaimer: This article was published by an independent organization. It should be used for information purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice. The views expressed on this page are those of individual authors and may not reflect the views of the USCIS or any other U.S. government agency.






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