Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Families Torn Apart: The Children Of Illegal Immigrants


Ponder this scenario, if you will. Imagine you are a single parent, and you are very, very poor... so poor that your children often go to bed very hungry. Because this poverty is all around you, resources that could help your family are very scarce. A friend tells you that, if you travel to another country, you will be able to get a job there, and send money home to your children regularly. If you do this, your children will be able to have food, clothes, toys, and educational opportunities that are definitely not common for children in your area. The possibility exists that you'll be able to return to your children in one or two years, with enough money saved up to create a family business. On the other hand, there is also a strong possibility that five, ten, fifteen, or more years will go by before you and your children see each other again. If you do not make this journey, your family will be able to stay together, but your children will probably remain poor and hungry for the rest of their lives. Would you make the trip to the other country?
It sounds like one of those impossible "Would you rather be eaten alive by a shark or by a lion" types of choices that people talk about at parties, for entertainment. But for many, many people in South and Central America, this choice is very real. In countries with alarmingly high unemployment and poverty rates, heads of households often decide to make a dangerous treck to the United States, so that they can send money back to their families. Many of these are single mothers. After deciding to go to the USA, single mothers often have to split their children up among various relatives, promising to send the caretaking relatives money for themselves as well as for the children's needs.
Usually, when a mother leaves her children in this way, the plan is that she will either return to her home country in a year or two with enough money saved up to keep the family going, or she will eventually bring her children to live with her in the United States.
However, once they leave, reuniting with their children is easier said than done. Illegal immigrants get jobs that pay very little... maybe $2.00 per hour. Out of that, they must pay their own living expenses, send money home to their children and all of their family members, and try to save up at the same time. They may have imagiend saving up enough money, very quickly, to be able to go home and provide a nice life to their children, but in reality it is extremely hard to save up enough. And since they often have to live in dangerous neighborhoods and in crowed apartments, they often decide that they do not want to bring their children there to live just yet. And so, the families remain apart... for years.
Meanwhile, children growing up in their home countries, being raised by relatives and often shuffled from one relative to another, feel abandoned. As they get older, many decide to follow in their parents' footsteps, and come to the USA illegally themselves. One common mode of traveling for illegal immigrants is to hitch rides on the tops of trains. Others are smuggled in the backs of trucks. Along the way, these children risk being beaten up or raped by bandits and even crooked police officers, becoming injured by falling off or being thrown off of trains, getting dehydrated or poisoned by fumes in the backs of trucks, etc.
Sometimes, parents in the USA hire smugglers, or "Coyotes", to sneak their children into the USA. This is a more common way of getting smaller children into the country. But smugglers aren't always honest people... Many smugglers do the work in order to support drug habits. And so, children are not very safe in the hands of these people. Smugglers sometimes abuse children, or put them into alarmingly unsafe situations (like hiding them in the empty tank of a gas truck, where they may die of aphyxiation) or abandon them at the first sign of trouble.
In South and Central America, governments and communities have put out campaigns to publicize the dangers of illegally traveling to the USA, and trying to convince parents to stay in their own countries and raise their children. "Parents, your children need you!" But to many parents, it seems that they are useless to their children if they stay. And so, it continues... parents continue to illegally come to the USA, and their children desperately try to become reunited with themy

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