The U.S. Tries to Deport Not Protect Children Fleeing Violence in Central America

"We have too many footprints all over these countries for us not to take some -- not all -- the responsibility [in this] humanitarian refugee crisis," says Linda Green, director for the Center of Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona.

Green sees historical complicity because the U.S. government financially supported oppressive regimes in Central America during the "dirty wars" of the 1980s.

She was an anthropologist in Guatemala during the U.S.-funded counter-insurgency.

Central America still is coping with the aftermath of the massacres and abuses of that period, which spawned drug trafficking and gangs, she says. Extreme poverty also is the result of free-trade agreements with the U.S. that put farmers out of work, she adds.

In a way, the children's arrival from Central America is a positive story, she believes.

"They are coming out of hope," Green says. "It is against all odds."


With a brand-new green card and his 18th birthday behind him, Peña had to leave the children's shelter in November.

Local activist Jason Odhner invited Peña into his home after a call from one of the youth's attorneys.

"He seemed a bit frightened of me and the situation, not quite sure what comes next," Odhner says.

But Odhner, who speaks Spanish and travels often to Central America to do humanitarian work, has had experience with kids like Peña in the past year. Their presence quickly painted a grim picture of need and despair, and Peña's wasn't any different.

"He really, really wanted to belong somewhere," Odhner says. "He tried so hard to fit in. He tried so hard to be an adult because he was sort of on his own and because in so many ways, he was a kid."

After three months, Peña found a job at the McDonald's and a transitional dorm for people his age.

He enrolled in school, too. (Public school is available to all youth regardless of their immigration status.)

He promised that if he made money, he would donate to the children in need of cleft-palate surgery whom he used to see in TV ads aired in Honduras. It's called Proyecto Sonrisas, or Operation Smile, and he's already donated.

"They don't have a life like us, because they don't have a smile. Instead, God gave me one when he took me from the hands of death," he says. "I feel good. I did something good."

It's all been much easier than the life he had in Honduras. But it has been difficult in other ways.

His life now is split between the commute to school and work.

Early in the morning, he takes a bus, then the light rail to summer school. He's part of a special program that teaches English as a second language. He goes to a Central High School program that feels like a mini-United Nations. Most of Peña's classmates are refugee children from places like Myanmar and Somalia.

He's been told it might take him three years to finish high school. Then, he wants to go to college to be a journalist or a nurse's assistant.

Peña wants to be perfect. So perfect that he got frustrated when his summer school English teacher put red marks on his homework. He approached her and told her she should not have done that to his work.

"But the following day he came back and apologized," his teacher, Jane Geary, recalls. "That is very unusual because teenagers don't come back the following day and say: 'I'm very sorry, Miss.'"

She's noticed that Peña often is tired in class. Between work and school, she observes, "that doesn't give you a lot of time to be a teenager."

At the place where he lives, staff keeps track of his time. He has to check in and check out. Most kids there don't have much experience dealing with adult figures in their lives. And it's hard for Peña, too, when one of the caseworkers grounds him if he comes home too late. He must follow the rules, like going to school and working. There are chores, too.
And there are the headaches, which hurt more in the afternoon. There are issues buried deep in those headaches that he doesn't want to talk about.

"What happened to me -- I don't wish it on my worse enemy," he says tearfully.
That's why he wants his siblings to move from where they live.

"I hate that place. I hate that place where my family comes from," he says. He thinks about his sister, who soon will turn 15.

He relates some of his story as if telling it will make it stop playing in his head. He's sitting in a Salvadoran restaurant (because he hasn't been able to find a Honduran restaurant) in Central Phoenix. A young girl about his age refills his water glass. She is curious and outgoing.

Turns out, she goes to Peña's school. She has a group of friends who do volunteer work in a hospital. She wants to have his phone number so she can invite him to join. She's from El Salvador. She knows how it goes, she says -- how difficult it is when you first arrive.

He smiles at her, carefully, as if it hurts a bit, showing the little spaces between his pointy, sparkly teeth. He gives her his phone number.

She smiles and walks away, a bounce in her step.

E-mail feedback@newtimes.com.

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157 comments
az53
az53

Send them back and quit wasting my tax dollars!!! EVERYONE should STOP PAYING TAXES and see if that wakes up the Goverment!!?? Our economy is already strained, abused with lies and fakes and fraudsters........can it really afford to take on more?? Hard working Americans will just have to pick up the tabs I guess (Again!!)

chingonblanco
chingonblanco

Si Se Deportamos!  When ILLEGALS call 911 to report they are lost and need rescuing by US LEOs, we clearly have an OUT OF CONTROL BORDER situation due the constant appeasement of open-borderistas and limp wristed Prog-tards.


We are NOT a NATION OF IMMIGRANTS!!!  Most of us were born here to legal citizens.  If you don't like it Lupe, eat a big bowl of verga!

Lauri Owen
Lauri Owen

Did you have kids, Michelle? If you did, you need to STFU.

Lauri Owen
Lauri Owen

yeah, f--k those kids! we should just let those kids be drafted into militaries, and raped, and die. [Judy, you SUCK as a human being, and you're sure no Christian.]

Lakeisha  Williams
Lakeisha Williams

From what I can see..many of the children simply climb atop of grain coaches of any given railway train. Sort of hobo style. Hop from train to train on thru central America until they reach the states. Their trip is free. However sending them back costs us money. How many times can we pay to send these kids back?

Mikey Lee
Mikey Lee

We are not a refugee camp for the world. We already have enough of our own people who don't get any help at all and enough people from other parts of the world that have raped our system dry of resources. These people have been leg to untreated for various diseases, there are gang members in the mix and everyone needs to to be sent back. Mark my words, there is going to be an increased epidemic of both disease and violence.

Mikey Lee
Mikey Lee

They need to go back. It's already been reported and confirmed that Border patrol have not been able to properly treat everyone who has flooded in here. It's also confirmed that they are bring diseases and that there are known gang members in the mix. We have our own people, children and issues to take care of. The US is not a refugee camp.

Tony Bayne
Tony Bayne

Sorry but all you people are ignorant. .. where did they get the money to make the 400+ mile journey to the usa... they flood spots of the border with kids and women then sneak there fucking terrorist dads and drug dealing cartels across when border patrol is busy... wake up.. 3.3 billion USA dollars are being waisted on these illegals. .... hunt illegal immigrants crossing the border... these are not refugees... these are planned drop offs by cartels to help destroy our country. ... they dont speak English. . They drive down our economy our minimum wage and our education system.... ya.. really fair to swamp our already low paid teachers with in educated non English speaking migrants... while we are at it lets go rescue all the Zimbabwe kids and Iraqi kids and moms and bring them here too?.... not..... Simply put a News interview crew asked a immigrant mother how her childhood was? She went on to tell them how horrible her whole life has been growing up in South America. Then they asked her why would you bring three children into this world to live the same horrible life that you just described. No comment after that. Stop wearing your heart on your sleeve and realize what's best for this country is best for you. and spending billions of dollars of hard earned American money on illegals is not the way to do it

rh19541954
rh19541954

I always love the goats who say "bleeding hearts", their destination is so not going to be nice! Jesus if he were here today would be called a bleeding heart, in his day the ruling class the Pharisees saw him as a heretic, false prophet, hated him with a vengeance, and ultimately plotted with Pagan Romans and had him murdered on a wooden cross, his great transgression was preaching to the thieves, harlots, murderers, healing the sick especially the lepers who during that day were deemed sinners and their illness proof of their sin and punishment by god, yes he was also preaching forgiveness, feeding the poor etc., things the self righteous of that day detested since it did not sit well with their authority, ability to decide who ought to be given kindness, compassion etc., today we have the mirror image of the biblical Pharisees they call themselves true conservatives, compassionate Christians aka lip service Christians, tea party patriots, generally anyone extreme right wing republican even a few conservative democrats fit the title! If Jesus were here today, ministering to these folks, these self proclaimed righteous would demand his arrest, incarceration and likely deportation as a illegal alien at minimum, but all would call him a bleeding heart liberal! I laugh at the term of bleeding heart liberal, eternity is a long time to pay for ones self righteousness, belief that ignoring the poor is optional, guess that is why once Jesus tells them he knows them not, God will not even look upon them! That lake of fire will be crowded with many who think they are not going there but then that's why they will be in awe and shock since they are blind!

Patricia Estrada
Patricia Estrada

What the hell happened to all the Good people in this world?!?!?

Patricia Estrada
Patricia Estrada

This country is already f***** up with politics! so what's the problem they are children and didn't ask to be born. I don't understand how people can be so damn selfish and talk like if these children are animals or as if they have no souls. I'm sorry but walk a few miles in their shoes

sarahjnock
sarahjnock

I'll take one of these kids! Send one to me. My house isn't overpopulated.



Mary Doe
Mary Doe

"I am in! Close the gates!'

GTFO
GTFO

NOT OUR PROBLEM.
ALL OF YOU BLEEDING HEARTS MUST HAVE FORGOTTEN ABOUT ALL OF THE HOMELESS OR POVERTY STRICKEN US CITIZEN CHILDREN THAT OBAMA AND THE REST OF YOU FAKE FUCKS ARE NOT HELPING.

Mary Doe
Mary Doe

Let us go all-Rand here. All justified selfishness. Investing in 'other people's children' is not a bad investment. Better than investing in other people's grandparents. And all of us, taxpayers, do the later.

Mary Doe
Mary Doe

And making the society's attitude towards children in general more harsh protects my child how?

Mary Doe
Mary Doe

I know what misunderstanding science is. But I do like you thinking, 'I believe the Earth is overpopulated. So you, other people, stop breeding ASAP. My parents and I are excluded.' Meanwhile the kids we are talking about are already born. They are already here.

Gerry Valenzuela
Gerry Valenzuela

The brave Mary Doe, with her fake profile and her bold opinions makes me sick.

Dustin Foose
Dustin Foose

I mean, it's only what? 60,000 teens? So 60,000 "concerned and appalled" citizens could easily save them all this trouble by taking in one of these kids.

Dustin Foose
Dustin Foose

Anybody in here actually DOING something to help or do you just piss and moan on facebook? Because that does jack shit to help anyone. Anybody offering to take in a kid or two? Pay for their meals and medical care? No? Then kindly shut the hell up about it.

April Angevine
April Angevine

For all you bleeding hearts out there, what the hell do think is going to happen if we keep them here? How many more are going to come and what kind of drain is it going to put on our economy? Do you enjoy paying for other people's children? And that's just the start, what are you going to do when school starts and your kids are coming home with bugs and diseases? Do you think we should all the "poor little" sick and poor kids from around the world here too??? Wake up!! Bet you all voted for Obama too!!! I say send them All back!!!

Dave Mcclure
Dave Mcclure

So there fleeing violence in South America and you expect them to stop in very violent ravaged by drug gangs Mexico you guys are idiots

Michael Swann
Michael Swann

cry me a river bleeding heart. not my problem!

Matt Barton
Matt Barton

What angers me is Obama seeking 3.7 billion dollars in aid for this crisis..I wish he could come up with that kind of money for our children. While he works his butt off for children not of this country our children suffer in poorly staffed, under financed schools with a budget not even close to the amount being sought. Fix America's problems first then we can deal with the rest.

Dustin Foose
Dustin Foose

Refugees? The passed through several other countries to get to this one. Covered thousands more miles than they had to. That is not a refugee at that point. It becomes illegal immigrant when you are picking and choosing your refuge.

Monique Dominguez
Monique Dominguez

Jesica Lynn I'm an american so sorry you can't send me away. But you can take your happy ass along with the children back to THEIR country.

Jesica Lynn
Jesica Lynn

Even if you're not a Christian, if you are a good hearted moral human being you wouldn't despise these kids.

john043012
john043012 topcommenter

The blacks in our society are really getting pissed off even jesse jerkson is voicing his disgust

john043012
john043012 topcommenter

Its also been reported the agents aren't going home in fear of spreading those diseases to their families

dogbiter
dogbiter

Put your shirt back on, you ignorant dumbass! You are so full of shit that somebody should slap some sense into you. You have no facts to back up what you say. Did you hear this crap on Fox News, the network you low-IQ racists watch with a passion. Fucktard, they're liars! Don't worry, none of these kids will be moving in next door to you in your AJ trailer park.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@rh19541954


Damn, when was the last time you actually lived in the real world?  Your comic book fantasy is hilarious, but not very meaningful.  


bleeding heart, bleeding heart, bleeding heart!  

armandocdll81
armandocdll81

That's the very question these refugees and other illegal immigrants first asked themselves when they realized their democratically elected officials didn't give a rat's ass about their needs let alone their very existence. 

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

Golly patty, instead of telling others what to do, open up your own home.  Open up your own wallet.  

When did you ever contribute to a good cause?  How about American Cancer Society?  How about the Kidney Foundation? How about Wounded Warriors?  Or even Salvation Army?


The answer is never.  You bleeding heart ninnies only preach, but your loony advice is never for yourself.  


Liberals are hypocrites!

Gentle_Fern
Gentle_Fern

These precious tykes will make great stocking-stuffers next Christmas. 

benjamingeeks
benjamingeeks

School districts will not let children in without documented immunization cards. I am a teacher, and you are off base.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

You can't call people idiots until you learn the difference between "they're" and "there".  It's a rule.


valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

You misunderstood.  They're not being despised.  They're being "deported".


john043012
john043012 topcommenter

@dogbiter Nice sidestep to answering his question a typical liberal reply ,throw out insults .

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