One participant in the debate over what to do with unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. from Central America is Sonia Nazario.
Nazario is author of the acclaimed 2006 book “Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother,” which she updated in 2013.
Her research for the book brought her to Nueva Suyapa, Honduras, in 2003. She returned last month, and she’s testifying before Congress tomorrow on the conditions there and her proposals for what the U.S. should do.
On what Honduran children are fleeing
“The people [drug cartels] are targeting as their foot soldiers are children. Christian [an 11-year-old Honduran boy] told me about going to school, his elementary school, and how the narcos were pressuring him to use marijuana and crack at 11 years old. And then they threatened to beat him up if he didn’t use that and work with them. And he knew what was coming next. These children are recruited to work as lookouts, to rob people, to extort people, and then, ultimately, to become hit men for the narcos.”
On the pervasive reach of the cartels
“In many schools, the teachers have to pay a war tax to be able to teach. Students have to pay rent to be able to go to school. In this elementary school — Christian’s elementary school — a 12-year-old would show up, who is part of the narco-cartels, and he would say, ‘I want these three 10-year-olds to help me distribute crack today.’ And the teacher who questioned him had a pistol put to her head. So, in many of these schools, they are controlled de facto by the narco-cartels.”
On the failings of the current U.S. asylum process
“When you apply for asylum you have to show that you fear persecution based on one of five grounds. Oftentimes, these children, because they are fleeing gang recruitment, they are fleeing violence at the hands of organized crime — non-state actors — they don’t fit in to the neat boxes we’ve had for asylum in the past. We need judges to be more open to these kinds of asylum claims. If these children really are in fear of their lives and don’t fit into those neat boxes that we have, we need to consider some sort of humanitarian parole to let some of these children in.”
On how to respond to the influx of children
“I understand that Americans, myself included, want immigrants to come here legally, but I think that there is a practical humane solution to this. And that is setting up refugee centers where you hold all of these children for 60 to 90 days and bring judges in who know child-sensitive interviewing techniques, and can adjudicate these cases right there in the refugee centers.”
- Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “Enrique’s Journey.” She tweets @SLNazario.