child refugees enter america -- 5/19/17

Today's selection -- from Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli. Unaccompanied children from Central America are continually entering the U.S. to escape poverty and violence in their home countries. From April 2014 to August of 2015 it reached crisis proportions when over 100,000 unaccompanied children entered, most fleeing gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The journey is fraught with danger -- 80 percent of females who make it are raped, and since 2006 over 120,000 of these migrants have disappeared. If they make it, these children know to immediately seek the U.S. Border Patrol, and soon after they do, a screening process begins:

"The process by which a child is asked questions during the intake interview is called screening. ... A few spaces down [on the intake form], right before the first formal interview question, a line floats across the page like an uncomfortable silence:

"Where is the child's mother? father?

"The interviewer has to write down whatever infor­mation the child can or will give to fill in those blanks­ -- those two empty spaces that look a bit like badly stitched wounds. Too often, the spaces remain blank: all the chil­dren come without their fathers and mothers. And many of them do not even know where their parents are. ...

" 'Why did you come to the United States?' ...

"Their answers vary, but they often point to a single pull factor: reunification with a parent or another close relative who migrated to the U.S. years earlier. Other times, the answers point to push factors -- the unthink­able circumstances the children are fleeing: extreme vio­lence, persecution and coercion by gangs, mental and physical abuse, forced labor, neglect, abandonment. It is not even the American Dream that they pursue, but rather the more modest aspiration to wake up from the nightmare into which they were born.

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, on June 18, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas.

"Then comes question number two in the intake ques­tionnaire: 'When did you enter the United States?' Most children don't know the exact date. They smile and say 'last year' or 'a few months ago' or simply 'I don't know.' ...

"The third and fourth questions on the intake ques­tionnaire are ... : 'With whom did you travel to this country?' and 'Did you travel with anyone you knew?' All children travel with a paid coyote. Some of them travel also with siblings, cousins, and friends.

"The fifth and sixth questions are: 'What countries did you pass through?' and 'How did you travel here?' To the first one, almost everyone immediately answers 'Mexico,' and some also list Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. To the question about how they traveled here, with a blend of pride and horror, most say, 'I came on La Bestia,' which literally means 'the beast,' and refers to the freight trains that cross Mexico, on top of which as many as half a million Central American migrants ride annually. There are no passenger services along the routes, so migrants have to ride atop the rail­cars or in the recesses between them.

Central American immigrants ride north atop a freight train known as "La Bestia."

"Thousands have died or been gravely injured aboard La Bestia, either because of the frequent derail­ments of the old freight trains or because people fall off during the night. The most minor oversight can be fatal. Some compare La Bestia to a demon, others to a kind of vacuum that sucks distracted riders down into its metal entrails. And when the train itself is not the threat, it's the smugglers, thieves, policemen, or soldiers who frequently threaten, blackmail, or attack the people on board. There is a saying about La Bestia: Go in alive, come out a mummy.

"But, despite the dangers, people continue to take the risk. Children certainly take the risk. Children do what their stomachs tell them to do. They don't think twice when they have to chase a moving train. They run along with it, reach for any metal bar at hand, and fling themselves toward whichever half-stable surface they may land on. Children chase after life, even if that chase might end up killing them. Children run and flee. They have an instinct for survival, perhaps, that allows them to endure almost anything just to make it to the other side of horror, whatever may be waiting there for them."



Valeria Luiselli


Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions


Coffee House Press


Copyright 2017 by Valeria Luiselli


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