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"Children of the Exodus:" Surge of Deportations Endangers Migrant Youth Abandoned in Mexico

StoryNovember 04, 2010
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Melissa Del Bosque

Investigative reporter with The Texas Observer. Her latest investigation published today is titled, "'Children of the Exodus: What becomes of kids who are deported without their families?'":

Raul Grijalva

co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

A new investigation published in The Texas Observer looks into one aspect of the collateral damage of the current US immigration laws that result in tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children being deported to Mexico every year. Many of these children are abandoned on the streets of Mexican border cities and end up in shelters in areas that have been ravaged by escalating drug violence. [includes rush transcript]

Melissa del Bosque, investigative reporter with The Texas Observer, joins us to talk about the situation. Her cover story, published today, is called "Children of the Exodus: What Becomes of Kids Who Are Deported Without Their Families?":

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Immigration reform and the DREAM Act are on shaky ground following the midterm results and the new reality of the Republican-controlled House. Well, a new investigation published in The Texas Observer today looks into one aspect of the collateral damage of our current immigration laws that result in tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children being deported to Mexico every year.

Many of these children are abandoned on the streets of Mexican border cities and end up in shelters in areas that have been ravaged by escalating drug violence. The investigation found that the majority of the children who are deported keep trying to re-enter the United States, for work, a better life, or to be reunited with their families.

AMY GOODMAN: But they also get caught in the midst of the so-called "war on drugs" and risk kidnapping and extortion as they try to cross the border along routes maintained by powerful drug cartels.

Well, for a picture of what happens to the deported kids and the dangers they face, we’re joined now from Austin, Texas, by Texas Observer reporter Melissa del Bosque. Her investigation, supported by the Nation Investigative Fund, is called "Children of the Exodus."

If you very briefly, Melissa, might just lay out for us this really tragic story.

MELISSA DEL BOSQUE: Sure. Back in 2008, Mexican Congress issued a report that more than 90,000 children had been deported by US authorities, and more than 13,000 of those kids were never reunited with their families. And when that report came out, it was initially what got me interested in going to Mexico and finding out what was happening to children after they were deported. And my findings were that they’re basically caught up in this endless cycle of going through these shelters and trying to get back across the river to family members on the US side.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what cities did you go into it? And could you tell us about some of the stories that you uncovered?

MELISSA DEL BOSQUE: Sure. I went to Reynosa and Matamoros, which are on the Texas border across from the Texas cities of McAllen and Reynosa — I mean, and Brownsville, I’m sorry. And I was working in shelters there that are run by Mexican social services. And the way that it works is that when US Border Patrol returns Mexican children to the Mexican side of the border, they go into these government-run shelters. But what happens is that family members or smugglers take the children out of these shelters, and then they are returned to the streets, and they’re caught up in this cycle of trying to get back across the border.

So I talked to more than twenty children, a lot of teenagers. One sixteen-year-old boy that comes to mind, his family lives just, I think, thirty-five miles away on the US side of the border, and he had been trying to get across for six months and had been caught several times. And his stepfather is a US citizen, so he would drive over to Mexico and give him money to pay the smugglers to try and come back across again. And he kept getting caught. So, these children are sort of caught in this sort of untenable situation where the cartel violence is worsening on the Mexican side of the border and then the security is stiffening on the US side of the border, and it’s becoming more dangerous and more dangerous to cross.

AMY GOODMAN: Melissa, you began your piece by saying, "In hindsight, it seems appropriate that Dia de los Muertos," the Day of the Dead, "and the mid-term election fell on the same day." And what does the Republican sweep of the House mean for immigration reform?

MELISSA DEL BOSQUE: Well, I mean, listening to Congressman Grijalva earlier in the show is — I have to say, reinforced my sort of pessimism about this log jam around immigration reform. When I was in Mexico, it became painfully clear to me, and what I’ve been trying to do is sort of maintain the human face of immigration, which I think has really been lost in the sort of political divisiveness over immigration, that, you know, there needs to be some sort of comprehensive immigration reform and some kind of family reunification process, because a lot of these kids I was talking to had family members who were either permanent residents or US citizens, and there’s millions of families in the United States right now that have mixed citizenship. So, if there was some way that these children could be reunified in the United States through some sort of comprehensive immigration reform, it would make, I think, a huge difference and save lives. But I mean, listening Congressman Grijalva and just the divisiveness that I saw during this midterm election, I’m pretty pessimistic that immigration reform is going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with Congress member Grijalva — I wanted to end with Congress member Grijalva, but play this ad that appeared in Nevada, which did get some attention, and ask you about it and where this means we go in the next two years.

LATINOS FOR REFORM AD: This November, we need to send a message to all politicians. If they didn’t keep their promise on immigration reform, then they can’t count on our vote. Democratic leaders must pay for their broken promises and betrayals. If we just go on supporting them again this November, they will keep playing games with our future and taking our vote for granted. Don’t vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message. You can no longer take us for granted.

AMY GOODMAN: Quite a remarkable ad paid for by a group called Latinos for Reform, headed by Robert de Posada, the former director of Hispanic Affairs for the Republican National Committee. Congress member Grijalva, we just have thirty seconds. The message, of course, don’t vote — what does this mean for the next few years?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Well, it’s cynical. And what it means, though, is that I think Democrats and progressives, in general, have to do a better job of defining who’s who in this whole immigration debate. Immigration, immigrants was used as a weapon through this whole midterm elections, over and over again, and faceless, no identity to people. It was used over and over again, certainly used in my race and many races across the country. Now, I think we have to do a much better job of defining who’s who in this debate. And we haven’t done it. We’ve been afraid of the issue. I agree with that. I think we just have to step up and be part of putting a human face on this debate.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Grijalva, we’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you very much for joining us from Tucson.


AMY GOODMAN: And Melissa del Bosque, for joining us from Austin. We’ll link to your piece in The Texas Observer. That does it for the show. The piece was called "Children of the Exodus."

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