TIME Guatemala

Guatemala Declares State of Emergency for Drought

Central America is suffering one of its worst droughts in decades

(GUATEMALA CITY) — The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in 16 of the country’s 22 provinces because of a drought that has caused major agricultural losses in Central America.

Agriculture Minister Elmer Lopez said Monday that as of last week more than 236,000 families had been affected mainly in western and central Guatemala.

The state of emergency declaration has to be approved by lawmakers so the government can provide funds to those who have lost their crops, and to stabilize food prices.

Central America is suffering one of its worst droughts in decades, and experts say major farm losses and the deaths of hundreds of cattle in the region could leave hundreds of thousands of families without food.

The losses are largely in the region’s staples of corn and beans.

TIME Immigration

Poll: Most Americans Want to Shelter, Not Deport, Migrant Children

Obama Meets With Leaders Of Honduras, Guatemala And El Salvador At White House
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as President Otto Perez Molina (2nd L) of Guatemala, President Juan Orlando Hernandez (R) of Honduras, and President Salvador Sanchez Ceren (L) of El Salvador listen in the White House July 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

A survey finds bipartisan majorities reject immediate deportation

Roughly seven in 10 Americans would prefer to see unaccompanied migrant children in the U.S. treated as refugees rather than illegal immigrants who should face immediate deportation, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

The findings, released by the Public Religion Research Institute, show that only one-quarter of Americans expressed support for immediate deportation of the migrant children, while 70% preferred temporary shelter along with the option of permanent residency for any child whose safety is threatened back home.

Support for temporary shelter and possible refugee status crossed party lines somewhat, with 80% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans favoring the option over immediate deportation.

The results come as the White House promised last week to stanch the flow of unaccompanied children across the southern border, while bills to address the issue are working their way through Congress. The Obama administration estimates some 90,000 migrant children from Central America will attempt to cross the U.S. border this year. Some 57,000 unaccompanied minors, meanwhile, have been picked up by law enforcement at the United States’ southern border since October.

TIME Immigration

Migrant Girls Share Haunting Stories About Why They Fled

Central American Female Immigrants
Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

A recent UN report gives haunting accounts from some of the girls who fled

The number of young girls captured at the US-Mexico border has increased by 77 percent this year, according to Pew Research Center analysis released Friday.

The number of girls under the age of 18 apprehended at the border this fiscal year was 13,008 compared to last year’s 7,339, according to Pew. The number of boys under 18 apprehended is still much higher at 33,924, but that represents only an 8% increase from 2013.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a report earlier this year that included haunting accounts from some of the young girls apprehended, in an analysis of 404 children from Mexico and Central America who had been detained at the border.

“The head of the gang that controlled her neighborhood wanted Josefina to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap her or to kill one of her family members if she didn’t comply,” the report writes, of one 16-year-old from El Salvador. “Josefina knew another girl from her community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members.”

Two-thirds of the children from El Salvador, both male and female, reported threats of violence from organized crime as one reason for fleeing. “One of [the gang members] ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm,” said 15-year-old Maritza. “In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”

Other girls reported domestic violence as a reason for leaving. Lucia, a 16-year-old from Guatemala, escaped her abusive grandmother’s home only to move in with an abusive boyfriend. “He beat me almost every day,” Lucia said. “I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left that same day.”

The increasing numbers of children from Mexico and Central America seeking refuge in the United States has prompted a legislative battle in Washington. It remains unresolved.

TIME Immigration

Obama Weighing Refugee Status for Honduran Child Migrants

U.S. Agents Take Undocumented Immigrants Into Custody Near Tex-Mex Border
Immigrant Melida Patricio Castro from Honduras shows a birth certificate for her daughter Maria Celeste, 2, to a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the U.S.-Mexico border near Mission, Texas on July 24, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

Administration believes it could be done by executive order

The Obama administration is considering granting refugee status to young Hondurans as part of a plan stem the tide of unaccompanied Central American child migrants flooding illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border, White House officials reportedly said Thursday.

Under the plan youths would be interviewed in Honduras to determine if they qualify for refugee status in the United States, CBS News reports. Administration officials told the New York Times they believed the move could be done by executive action, and without going through Congress, if it did not increase the overall number of refugees to the U.S.

The proposal is reportedly one of a broader group of potential initiatives to address the crisis.

After Speaker John Boehner said that the GOP-controlled House would not allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform this year, the President announced that he was prepared “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

More than 16,000 unaccompanied Honduran children and 30,000 Hondurans traveling as families have been apprehended attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico illegally since October 1.

Juan Orlando Hernández, the President of Honduras, blames the crisis on a combination of factors, including lack of opportunity inside the country and drug cartels and street gangs enriched by narcotics trafficking who sow havoc through much of the country. Honduras has the highest murder rate of any country in the world.

President Obama was due to meet with Hernandez, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and El Salvadorean President Salvador Sanchez Ceren on Friday to discuss the high numbers of young immigrants crossing the border illegally.

TIME Immigration

Pope Francis: Child Migrants to U.S. Must Be ‘Welcomed and Protected’

Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 13, 2014.
Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 13, 2014. Tony Gentile—Reuters

Immigrants "continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes" said the pontiff, as the U.S. struggles to deal with a wave of unaccompanied child migrants at its southern border

The Pope has called for tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants to be “welcomed and protected” as they attempt to enter the U.S. from Central America and Mexico.

In a letter read Monday at a Vatican conference in Mexico City on human migration and development, Pope Francis said migration “has now become a hallmark of our society and a challenge.”

The Vatican Radio translation continues with the Pope noting: “Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often die, tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.”

The pontiff calls on nations to become more welcoming towards migrants, singling out the increasing numbers of children who migrate alone as deserving special care and attention.

“They are increasing day by day,” the Pope said, in a reference to the rising number of unaccompanied child migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border. “The humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”

Pope Francis ended the letter by suggesting that the international community should inform migrants about the dangers of their journey and instead promote development in their home countries.

In an accompanying press statement, the Vatican noted since October, the U.S. has detained around 57,000 unaccompanied children, double the number from the same period last year.

TIME central america

Honduran Children Deported From U.S. Back to World’s ‘Most Violent City’

A chartered flight of minors and mothers deported from the U.S. landed on Monday in San Pedro Sula, said to be the world's murder capital

+ READ ARTICLE

Twenty-one Honduran children and 17 mothers deported from the U.S. landed in San Pedro Sula on Monday — reportedly the most murderous city in the world — to be greeted with balloons and smiles from Honduras’ First Lady.

“These are people coming home with a broken heart and a broken dream,” Ana García de Hernández told a throng of reporters and cameramen pushing at a barricade as the deportees were given food. “We have to give them the best welcome we can.”

Children have been deported before from the U.S. to Central America, although usually seated more discreetly on commercial flights. But the plane that landed on Monday from New Mexico was the first flight entirely made up of women and children deportees to be sent to this impoverished Central American country, Honduran officials said. García said it would be one of dozens of such flights chartered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the coming weeks, delivering deportees not only to Honduras but also El Salvador, Guatemala and parts of the region.

Tens of thousands of Central American minors have made the hazardous journey to the U.S. by themselves, in the hope of forming an immigration foothold for their families. Because U.S. border facilities are so overwhelmed, authorities often release children into the care of relatives already in the country. The largest number comes from Honduras, a mountainous land of sprawling banana plantations that has become the deadliest country in the world outside a war zone. In 2012, it suffered 90 killings per 100,000 people. While poverty has long been a driver of emigration, many children cite the violence as the reason they flee.

However, with these chartered flights the new attitude from Washington is clear: children should no longer come because they will not be allowed to stay.

“These deportation flights send a message to people and families in Central America, but also they send a message that the governments should listen to,” says Héctor Espinal, the Honduras spokesman for the UNICEF, which is overseeing the reception of deportees. “The message is that governments should do what they need to do to stop the violent conditions that are making these children leave.”

Exactly how to stop the violence in Honduras is a subject of much debate. Many murders are carried out by two major gangs, each with thousands of members — the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Surviving military crackdowns and anti-gang laws, they have grown into transnational criminal organizations capable of shaking down businesses large and small. Adding to the bloodshed, drug cartels from Mexico and Colombia use Honduras as a staging point to move cocaine north to the profitable U.S. market.

Speaking to TIME, First Lady García said Honduras needs its own U.S.-funded anticrime program, akin to Plan Colombia or Mexico’s Merida Initiative, to fight the gangs and cartels.

“We have been having a frank conversation with U.S. Congressmen, and we accept that a cause of much of this emigration is the violence. The 30 most violent municipalities in Honduras are also the municipalities with most unaccompanied minors leaving, and these are places that have been hit by drug trafficking,” García said. “Drug trafficking starts in South America, unfortunately passes through our country and continues to the United States. We have spoken about the need for integral support to solve this problem. My husband, the President, has spoken about the need to implement in Honduras what they implemented in Colombia and in Mexico.”

Any improvement however, will take time — and in the meantime, many are desperate. Coming out of the deportation-processing center after arriving on another flight, 20-year-old Wilson Hernandez said he was concerned about going back to his home in the Pradera del Sur neighborhood of San Pedro Sula.

“It is a brutal place. There are gang members with rifles and grenades. I am scared to go out of my house a lot of the time,” says Hernandez, who was caught crossing into Texas.

In April and May, eight minors were murdered in Pradera del Sur. Police say they were killed by gang members, possibly because they refused to be recruited.

“This kind of violence makes kids want to run away. They just want to survive,” Hernandez says. “They can fly people home, but if this carries on they will still head north. Things have to change here.”

TIME Immigration

Obama Urges Congress to Approve $4 Billion in Funds for Immigration Crisis

The President declined Governor Perry's request that he visit the border while in Texas: "I'm not interested in photo ops. I'm interested in solving a problem"

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Updated 6:29 p.m. ET on July 10

President Barack Obama called on Congress to swiftly approve nearly $4 billion in supplemental funding to deal with the influx of unaccompanied minors at the Southwest border Wednesday, saying lawmakers need to set aside politics to solve the problem.

“Are we more interested in politics, or are we more interested in solving the problem,” Obama said in statement late in the day after a meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry and local faith leaders in Dallas to deal with the months-long crisis.

“What I emphasized to the governor is the problem here is not a major disagreement around the actions that could be helpful in dealing with the problem,” Obama said. “The challenge is: Is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done?”

Obama described the meeting with Perry, which came about after days of partisan wrangling, as “constructive,” saying “there’s nothing that the governor indicated he’d like to see that I have a philosophical objection to.”

The President said he encouraged Perry to pressure the Texas delegation to support the supplementary request. “If the Texas delegation is prepared to move, we can get this thing done next week,” he said.

House Republicans have called on Obama to use his executive authority to take steps to deal with the surge of illegal immigrants but have not yet indicated whether they will bring the President’s request up for a vote.

Perry, meanwhile, called on Obama to immediately deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to help deal with the crisis and to personally visit the border.

“Five hundred miles south of here in the Rio Grande Valley there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been created by bad public policy, in particular the failure to secure the border,” Perry said in a statement. “Securing the border is attainable, and the President needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done.”

Obama left open the possibility of sending the National Guard if it would help Republicans move on the funding request, but added that the supplemental request is a longer-term solution that should be amenable to both parties, saying the GOP needs to “rediscover the concept of negotiation and compromise.”

The President also offered his most forceful public comments of warning to parents in Central American countries ravaged by poverty and violence who might send their migrant children on the dangerous journey to the U.S.

“Their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay,” Obama said, noting he has sent top Administration officials to Central America over the past several weeks. Vice President Joe Biden spoke Wednesday with the Presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to review efforts to dissuade parents from sending their children to the U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Thursday that up to 90,000 unaccompanied child immigrants could cross the border before September, burdening immigration agencies who badly need new funding to handle the influx. Johnson cited the highest calculation of immigrant children yet when he appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday afternoon. “We are preparing for a scenario in which the number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border could reach up to 90,000 by the end of fiscal 2014,” Johnson’s testimony reads.

Obama meanwhile defended his decision not to visit the border, saying he’s not “interested in photo ops.”

“There is nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on,” he said. “This is not theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving a problem.”

 

TIME Immigraiton

Obama’s Texas Trip Sets Stage for Immigration Alamo

Governor Perry, who has been sharply critical of the administration response to a wave of child migrants on the border, declined to meet the president on arrival

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President Barack Obama travels to Texas Wednesday to raise money for Democratic campaigns in Dallas and Austin, speak about the economy, and meet with community leaders for a discussion about the wave of migrants, many of them children, flooding the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months.

Texas Governor Rick Perry will meet with the President during his visit, but declined an offer to welcome Obama to Texas by meeting him at the airport.

“I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport,” Perry wrote in a letter seen by the Austin-American Statesman, “but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue. With the appropriate notice, I am willing to change my schedule to facilitate this request.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the President will meet with border officials on his visit to Texas but not tour the border itself, something Governor Perry has repeatedly invited him to do.

TIME Immigration

Obama in Political Bind Over Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors

Unaccompanied minors ride atop the wagon of a freight train, known as La Bestia (The Beast) in Ixtepec, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca on June 18, 2014.
Unaccompanied minors ride atop the wagon of a freight train, known as La Bestia (The Beast) in Ixtepec, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca on June 18, 2014. Jose de Jesus Cortes—Reuters

A request for funding could lead Republicans to demand concessions

President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion Tuesday to handle the thousands of child migrants on the southern border, and he’d like lawmakers to treat the emergency request as a simple matter of human compassion.

“Our hope and expectation consistent with the incoming we have received from both parties is that this will be treated as the urgent humanitarian situation that it is,” said a White House official who briefed reporters about the request.

But nothing is quite so simple in Washington these days. By sending the request to Congress, Republicans, who are outraged over Obama’s immigration policies, will now have an opportunity to express their fury in must-sign legislation, possibly attaching policy riders or demanding budget cuts elsewhere.

“The Appropriations Committee and other Members, including the working group on the border crisis led by Rep. Kay Granger, will review the White House proposal,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement. “The Speaker still supports deploying the National Guard to provide humanitarian support in the affected areas—which this proposal does not address.”

And liberals are organizing to block the White House efforts to rewrite laws to make the deportation of child migrants from Central America less cumbersome.

Under current law, unaccompanied minors from Central America are automatically referred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which works to place them with family members already residing in the United States while they await a court date. Unaccompanied minors from Mexico, however, are treated differently, and can be screened for immediate return to their home country by U.S. Border Patrol if they do not present human trafficking or refugee concerns. “There isn’t really a policy rationale for treating them differently,”a second White House official said Tuesday, arguing that the current system is allowing too many children to stay in the U.S. for extended periods of time. “The number of kids removed is not large enough. That is why we are seeking to make this process more efficient.”

But immigrants’ rights advocates argue that the conditions in Central America and the length of the journey justify temporary placement in American homes and schools, even when there are no immediate signs of suspected criminal trafficking or refugee claims. Leslie Holman, the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, has condemned the White House proposal to expedited removal of Central American children. “That is simply unconscionable,” she said Monday in a statement. “No matter what you call it, rapid deportations without any meaningful hearing for children who are rightly afraid of the violence and turmoil from which they fled is wrong, and contradicts the fundamental values of this nation.”

The White House request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding for 2014 is also significantly higher than the “more than $2 billion” estimates senior Administration officials offered reporters last week. It includes $1.6 billion for enhanced deterrence and enforcement on the border, $1.8 billion for Health and Human Service programs for the youth, and $300 million for international programs to aid Central America. The Administration is also bundling the request with an additional $615 million in emergency funds to fight wildfires in the West, a move that is likely to attract the votes of a number of members of Congress.

TIME Honduras

Desperate Journey: Crime and Poverty Drive Honduran Kids to U.S.

Mary Murray—NBC News

In a crowded, run-down emergency room in San Pedro Sula, the reason why so many children are fleeing Honduras for the dangerous trek to the U.S. is easy to find.

A 17-year-old boy lies in a coma on a gurney. He has been shot in the head — yet another victim of the unrelenting violence that has turned this Central American country into the murder capital of the world.

A pediatrician who works in the Hospital Nacional emergency room says he’s had to become an expert at repairing the damage bullets do to children.

Read More at NBC News.

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