WASHINGTON, D.C. — Margarita made a hand gesture with two fingers to her left temple. “Aqui.” Here, she recounted in Spanish, was where a man pointed his gun when he threatened to kill her, then her family, as they robbed her truck of the goods that she and her husband were selling in Lempira, Honduras. They shot at her truck 13 times, killing the engine, and took off. Margarita went to the police who brushed her off and told her to “hire a security guard.” Soon after, she began to receive death threats for going to the police. One time, she said that she found a note threatening to kill her youngest son named Darling, in the storage room where she kept the goods she was selling. That was the moment, she said, when she decided to flee the country with him. Now, she is sitting with a moist tissue she’s using to dab away tears as she recounts her northbound journey at a press conference. Margarita was among the more than 66,000 migrant family units caught making the trek from Central America through the southern U.S. border this past year. Along with the National Alliance of Latin American and Carribbean Communities (NALACC) and Central American Center (CARECEN), Margarita traveled to the nation’s capitol to talk about the conditions in Honduras and to help educate people about why Central Americans were fleeing their countries.
“We want to see a legal relief like a work permit, or some way to stay in the United States,” Margarita said through a translator. “One thing I want to see is no deportations because if they deport me, I will come back. I don’t want to be there.”
Putting her house up as collateral, Margarita and Darling used the money to pay coyotes to guide them from Honduras to the United States. They were immediately detained by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents in Texas, where they were held for several days in a processing facility. They were eventually released to family members in Massachusetts, who sent money for them to board a bus. The mother and son now live outside Boston, where they await their deportation hearing in January 2015.
NALACC and CARECEN representatives were also on hand to discuss preliminary findings from their three-week tour to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the three countries where most migrants are coming from. The team found that the most pervasive issue contributing to migrants leaving Central America in droves was that the violence was ongoing and children were increasingly targeted, an issue confirmed by past reports. The team also found that there has been an increase in family deportations; weak protections for facilities receiving and re-integrating children and families back to the countries; structural violence “exacerbated by corruption and ineffective judicial systems and the desperation of long-separated families, driven by outdated and family unfriendly U.S. immigration policies and systems;” and a lack of institutional capacity for re-integrating deported children and families. They also found that many families traveling from Central America never made it to America because they were apprehended in Mexico and sent home.
Over the past few months, the Obama administration has been overloaded with the deportation proceedings of Central American migrant families who are appealing for humanitarian relief in the country. As it began putting hundreds of mothers and children on flights back to their countries, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency also put out a “Dangers Awareness” ad campaign aimed at dissuading people from making the journey. As Oscar Chacon, NALACC executive director, pointed out to ThinkProgress, the campaigns are not working.
“To be honest with you, you are telling people [something] they already know,” Chacon said. “When we spend however much we spend with videos and radio spots telling people ‘don’t migrate because it’s very dangerous and something may happen to you and your family,’ you’re telling people something they already know. We don’t believe that’s the right approach.” Across the hall at another press conference on migrant children, Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alenadro Mayorkas stated to reporters that he believed that the campaigns were working, but admitted, “It would be premature at best to declare victory, to say the problem is behind us, because we don’t know.”
Still, delegation members of the fact-finding mission insist that Congress should not “indiscriminately return migrant children back into a maelstrom of conflict and criminal violence.” They are calling for migrants to be guaranteed legal representation, but also for the government to issue a class-wide protection program to make sure that no one is sent back to violence or death. Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin told ThinkProgress, “It’s imperative of our faith to have compassion, particularly for children. I think the Abrahamic faith — the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths — we’re all in accord to welcome the stranger in our midst and treat them as our own…Jesus himself was a refugee.”