Risking danger for a better life

More children are crossing into the U.S. without parents or guardians

By Armando Machado

The Arizona heat was so intense, it fused 14-year-old Gabriel Juarez’s socks to his skin. When the teen finally arrived from Mexico to join his parents in the Skagit Valley, he needed medical treatment.

“My mother took him … to the emergency room. They had to surgically remove his socks from his feet,” recalled Jose Ortiz, now a pastoral assistant at St. Charles Parish in Burlington.

Crossing the border in search of a better life is “muy peligroso” — very dangerous — said Juarez, now 24 and a married father of three who does construction work. Although he made the trip with a group of people that included a male cousin in his late 20s, today there are growing numbers of unaccompanied minors making the journey from Central America and Mexico into the U.S.

In 2014, more than 60,000 unaccompanied minors could enter the U.S. illegally, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (see info box).

“It is clear that violence perpetrated by gangs and organized crime in parts of Central America is a contributing factor to the large number of children fleeing,” Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the USCCB migration committee, said in a news release. These children have no educational and employment opportunities, he added.

Bishop Elizondo was in El Salvador May 19–22 for an annual meeting with bishops from Central America and Mexico. This year’s gathering focused on how to protect these youths in their home countries and along the migration journey.

“We need to address all immigration issues in general, but especially this,” Ortiz said. Just like adult migrants, he said, youths risk the border crossing “to come here for a better life, to escape poverty.”

When Juarez made his journey to the Skagit Valley, he hadn’t seen his mother and father for three years. “My parents were here, and they wanted me to come,” he explained. The two-week trip from southern Mexico began by car, then the group traveled on foot in the Arizona heat, and later by bus into Washington state.

Juarez, who attends Mass at St. Charles, said he and his family are grateful for the parish’s assistance, including food, clothing, household essentials and ongoing spiritual support.

Ortiz, an immigration-reform advocate, said countries need to work harder to improve their economic conditions so that fewer people want to make the dangerous journey northward.


Report on migrant youth

In November, a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration traveled to Central America to examine the issues surrounding the migration of children.

The delegation’s report, “Mission to Central America: The Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States” and its recommendations, can be read online.


This is a corrected version of an article that was published May 28.