The U.S. government has yet to return any children to their Central American countries. And yet on Sunday, Guadalupe Samaniego, a reporter for The New York Times, traveled to a camp outside the Honduran border city of San Pedro Sula and met a 6-year-old boy who spent the past six months separated from his mother. “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said in Spanish. “It was hard to go away from her, but she left me here.” The boy, Eli?
Now, he’s cared for by a Honduran woman in a trailer park. Eli doesn’t know his last name, but the woman’s husband said she was picked up at a migrant shelter along with four other women by a U.S. border patrol agent in early September. The authorities never returned them to Honduras, where some still fear for their lives.
Eli’s mother managed to make it to the United States over the course of six months, passing through Mexico at a time when large numbers of people were pouring over the border. But that security problem eventually made it harder for her to stay.
She thought she would find work until she heard that her son was lost in the camp. Eli never spoke of his mother while in the caravan, in interviews with reporters and in cellphone videos shared by the woman. His curly hair had caught most of the public’s attention; once he’d been reunited with her, he had no idea what many people were fussing over.
This was the latest episode of a longer story about how migration between Central America and the United States has become a niche industry that has no clear end in sight.
A series of reports by CNN, also backed by the New York Times, has shown the giant migrant caravan that set out in late April from Honduras is still expanding. And new words have been added to the lexicon: “family separation,” “caravan,” and “coyotes,” an informal language for smugglers who show migrants smugglers. At the border, those names now feature prominently in policy discussions about how to deal with thousands of Central American migrants who are largely fleeing violence and crime.
A government spokesman told CNN that there were 3,100 people in the camp in San Pedro Sula.
At the southern edge of Guatemala City on Saturday, the government said it was sending more than 1,100 families to houses closer to the border, as migrants in the caravan — about 2,000 of them by mid-February — continue to flow into Mexico, or wait at a border crossing near the city of Tapachula to apply for asylum.
Guatemala’s migration policy has been contradictory, and under its new president, Jimmy Morales, the government has revoked many of its obligations under the Migrant Protection Protocol of 1990, which currently requires it to provide for the refugees.
Given those changes, a Trump administration decision not to return parents and children separated by the border authorities in recent months could bolster Morales and the Guatemalan government’s efforts to organize the migrant caravan under the banner of the More than Human Movement, a Catholic church campaign. They have not wanted the migrants to be turned back or detained, instead focusing on free clinics, education and food for those in the camp.
At the concert this week that followed a march protesting the policy, an emcee wearing a red T-shirt exhorted the migrants to “stay the course,” to “keep moving on.” On Friday, Morales told Radio Progreso that “all these kids” had “fallen through the cracks.”
A government spokesman said late Saturday that Morales had arrived in the country at 2:35 a.m. “and has met the first group of migrants, children and families.”
On Saturday, Morales announced new measures to collect about $20 million to build 20,000 shelters in the Central American country, where some migrants in the caravan have said they worry about how to get money for water or food. Morales said that at least 200,000 camp residents were meeting with his government to ask for housing.