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'We Are Not Dogs': Central Americans Struggle to Understand US Immigration Crisis 

02-08-2019
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GUATEMALA CITY – As the US grapples with what President Trump calls a "crisis" along the southern border, Central Americans see the problem much differently.

Each year tens of thousands of Central American migrants leave bleak neighborhoods. 

Many live in homes made of little more than cardboard walls and dirt floors, places where one of the most promising prospects includes joining a violent gang.

Most everyone hoping to escape wants the same thing.

"A better future and for them to have what I never had since my childhood," Heidy Garcia Benitez tells CBN News. 

The Journey

She left her home in Honduras with her young daughter and toddler son. 

Honduras has one of the world's highest murder rates. The State Department cautions Americans against traveling there.

Benitez's brother paid a "coyote," or guide, to take them through Guatemala and Mexico to the US border. It was her first time leaving her country.

"He told me we were going to make a stop here in Guatemala, but he just left me here. He said he was going to run an errand downtown and he never came back and he didn't leave me any money," she says.

It's the victimizing of these migrants seeking a better life often discussed by President Trump and other leaders. 

"I never imagined this would happen, I only had a bag with clothes for myself and my children and our documents, that's all," she recalls.

She was fortunate to end up at an immigration house in Guatemala City.

A Safe Place

Juan Luis Carvajal Tejeda is a Catholic priest who runs it. 

Each night as many as 30 people stay at the house. It's a welcomed refuge for migrants headed to the border or back home after being deported.

"Some of them have already been robbed, abandoned, they are in need – it's the most basic human need to offer a safe place," says Tejeda.

In a typical room at the immigration house, there are ten beds and migrants are allowed to stay about two weeks.

Tejeda says the need is so great they're hoping to add a third level.

He and his staff helped Oblina Suarez get in touch with her sister after the 23-year-old was caught crossing the US border illegally and deported. 

"The journey there was hard. There was a stretch of desert where we had no water, nothing to eat. From there we got caught and they took us to immigration," she tells CBN News.

At the immigration house she has access to a psychologist, Maria Reyes who talks to migrants about their frustrations, any trauma suffered on their journeys and tries to help get the information or documents they need.

Trying to Achieve a Better Life

Given more than half of Guatemala's population lives in poverty and its children are among the world's most malnourished, Reyes doesn't counsel against trying to achieve a better life.

"We tell them and remind them of the risks. Luckily they are alive, but will they be as fortunate this time? We talk about those things – the advantages and disadvantages of making another attempt," she says soberly.

Reyes, Tejeda and many other Central Americans CBN spoke with, compare this current migration to the US to that from Europe around the birth of the nation.

They have a hard time understanding why today's Americans don't welcome Central American migrants as Europeans were once embraced.

"Central America and Mexico have become a cemetery for immigrants, this is now a matter of life and death. It's about guaranteeing life, we are human beings, we are not animals. We are not dogs," says Tejeda. It's an issue he's passionate about.

An Uncertain Future

After getting deported, Suarez made a difficult decision.

"I don't plan to go back to the United States. Now what I'm going to do is work and get ahead in life," she says.

Benitez says she'll try to get a job in Guatemala since she thinks it's safer than Honduras.

Then after making some money, she'll try again to get her family across the US border.

"Thankfully God has not abandoned me. He has not let go of my hand. In the time I've been here in Guatemala I have found good people who have helped me with my children, and I thank God for this house," she says.

No matter which path migrants choose, Tejeda and his staff pray they all eventually find their way. 
 

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