On August 6, an 11-year-old boy named Jonathan was discovered by our Border Patrol at the Mexico/Texas border. Days or weeks before, Jonathan left his native El Salvador and headed north because his family wanted him to have a better life in the United States. But, by the time Jonathan reached the Texas border in the blistering summer heat, he was dehydrated and exhausted. Our Border Patrol agents found Jonathan and tried to save him, but it was too late. Jonathan was pronounced dead in a nearby Texas hospital.
My message to Central American families in the United States and in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala: Know the facts before you gamble with your child’s life.
I have said many times before that sending a child on the long journey, from Central America, through Mexico, and illegally into the United States is dangerous, particularly in the summer heat and in the hands of criminal smugglers. That is true now as it was before.
This summer we are seeing another troubling and dangerous thing. Before smuggling women and children across our border, the Coyotes are forcing them to spend days in “stash houses.” These women and children, who have paid the Coyotes thousands of dollars, are then held by the Coyotes against their will with little food and water. We are told many women are sexually abused by the smugglers. One Honduran woman told us that her experience at a stash house was the worst part of the journey. She now warns others: “Don't believe everything the Coyotes say because they tell you a different story than what is reality. Reality is really hard.”
Know the facts. Do not be misled. Do not fall prey to criminal smugglers who regard children as commodities. We are cracking down on these smuggling organizations. Just last month, we arrested 23 smugglers at once and charged them with human trafficking. These smugglers now each face sentences of up to ten years in federal prison.
Know the facts. Our borders are not open to illegal migration. There are no “permisos” or work permits for families attempting to enter the United States illegally. In fact, under our new policies, anyone apprehended crossing our border illegally after January 1, 2014 is a top priority for deportation, regardless of age. If you come here illegally, there will be consequences. You will be detained, often required to pay a bond, and agree to conditions that ensure your return to court for your immigration case. The recent court decision has not changed this policy.
Know the facts. For some children in Central America, there is a lawful and safe path to come to the United States. We remain committed to protecting families with legitimate humanitarian claims under our laws. Late last year, we established an in-country refugee processing program in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, for children with at least one parent lawfully present in the United States. We encourage families to take advantage of this program, which will provide those who qualify with a safe and legal alternative to the perilous illegal journey. More information about this program can be obtained at http://www.uscis.gov/CAM or through your local consulate.
We urge you to choose this path, not the dangerous and illegal one.
Meanwhile, President Obama wants to address the violence and poverty in Central America. That is why he has asked Congress for $1 billion to create economic opportunity in Central America and accountable, functioning governing institutions.
Jonathan’s journey to the United States ended tragically. Don’t subject your child to the risk of the same fate.
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This first appeared in EFE.