A Central American bishop has said the recent wave of migrants to the U.S., which has included many unaccompanied minors, has been shaped in large part by “false illusions” created by organized criminals and traffickers.
“It is unfortunate that the illusion and mirage that the U.S. is the best place for all of the children from Honduras, when it is a false and empty promise to say that arriving there they will have free education, health care, food, and clothing,” Bishop Romulo Emiliani Sanchez told the Honduran newspaper “La Tribuna.”
Bishop Emiliani is an auxiliary of the Diocese of San Pedro Sula, located in the north of Honduras near the Guatemalan border.
Some media reports have estimated the number of underage immigrants who have arrived in the U.S. in recent months at 50,000, the majority of them without the company of their parents. Many come from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatmela in hope of obtaining a better future and earning their U.S. residency.
“There are organized criminal who are charged with creating false illusions and mirages, saying that our children are going to be better off there than here,” Bishop Emiliani said. “They have tricked thousands of parents.”
Bishop Emiliani indicated that “it is undignified and sad that in this country we cannot provide our children with the basic needs of education and food; it is a duty of the state and of all of us to care for the children of Honduras.”
Hugo Martínez, El Salvador's chancellor, declared to Spanish news agency EFE that “putting your children in the hands of delinquents is to put them in imminent danger that could end with the loss of their lives.”
Martínez described as a “great lie” the offer made by organized criminals assuring families that once their underage children are on U.S. soil, they will have “resolved their immigration problem.”
The criminals and traffickers stand to gain from an increase in child migrants, charging large fees – between $5,000 and $7,000 – to transport the children to the U.S. border.
Gordon Jonathan Lewis, representative of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in El Salvador, explained to EFE that child traffickers tell families that they will benefit from “amnesty reform.”
The underage children are transported by organized criminals along with other undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the U.S. on the Mexican train known as “La Bestia” (the Beast), where they are exposed to crime and unsafe environments.
Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, a legislative affairs specialist in Catholic Relief Services’ D.C. Office, said the situation is a “refugee crisis” due to “violence, insecurity and displacement in Central America and Mexico.”
“The gangs which are terrorizing young people and their families here initially got their start on the streets of Los Angeles,” she said. U.S. deportation of young people to Central America in the 1990s helped the gangs “flourish” due to the lack of jobs and easy access to weapons in the receiving countries.
“Today Honduras and El Salvador are among the most violent countries in the world, and parents are willing to do whatever it takes to bring their kids to safety,” said Gerschutz-Bell.
San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second largest city, has in recent years been called the murder capital of the world. Drug trafficking and gang violence led in 2012 to 1,218 homicides in the city: a rate of 169 per 100,000 people.
By comparison, the same year, New Orleans, considered the most violent city in the U.S., had a murder rate of 53 per 100,000 people.
Such violence is what parents who send their children to the U.S. are trying to spare them.
Bishop Emiliani lamented that thousands of Honduran children “are fleeing as though we were living in a war, and it is a similar type of exodus; the people are running away from here.”
“It is something that we hope to be able to halt, so that these children have a future in this country.”