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Debunking Myths About Flood of Central American Children

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014   

YSIDRO, Calif. – There are many questions surrounding why thousands of Central Americans children are setting off alone and risking their lives to migrate to the United States.

One woman who made that journey wants to shine a light on the issue.

Kenia Calderon was just 11 years old when her family fled El Salvador nine years ago, after she says their neighborhood was overrun by gangs, crime and a general feeling of despair.

"The violence was horrible,” she stresses. “You know, you just didn't feel safe, and gang members would kidnap girls and force them into the gangs and make them be sex slaves."

Calderon says the economic and political situations in many Central American countries and Mexico have deteriorated because their economies have failed to produce jobs, which in turn fuels hopelessness and violence.

In El Salvador, police report so far this year the murders of children 17 and under are up 77 percent from a year ago, while a city in northwestern Honduras has the world's highest homicide rate, according to the United Nations.

Calderon rejects the notion that children are being sent to the U.S. by their parents because they think some sort of window of lax border enforcement has opened up.

She says children subjected to rampant daily violence and horrific conditions are forced to grow up very quickly.

"They're the ones making the decision, and sometimes they just tell their family, 'I'm coming, be ready for me,’ because they cannot wait for anything, for any change,” she relates. “They know that nothing's going to change that's going to better their lives."

Calderon points out the record-high number of deportations under the Obama administration is well-known in Central America, but many desperate youths still feel migration is their best hope.

She says children have actually been fleeing these countries for several years, a fact well documented by groups such as the Pew Hispanic Trust.

"A lot of Americans feel like the situation is being exaggerated, and I feel like it's because we lack a sense of curiosity,” she maintains. “I think we need to be aware a lot more of what's going on around the world, not just in the countries that benefit us."

Calderon hopes more Americans will take the time to research what is happening and why, and instead of using the situation for political gain, to look for ways to help families reunite, to treat immigrants with respect and to take a long look at U.S. policies in the region.

"I feel like we all should be looking for another solution that will help these kids, because this is a cry for help,” she says. “Something must be done, not because they want to win the next election, but because we are humans."

This story was made possible in part by the Voqal Fund.





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