Many people have left Central America with hopes of coming to the United States. About 57,000 children have crossed the U.S. border without a family member or legal guardian over the past few months.
The U.S. government uses buildings to hold undocumented immigrants along its southern border. But those detention centers are now full. Government agencies are struggling to deal with the hundreds of children who enter the country illegally every day. So, religious organizations, aid groups and volunteers are helping the government deal with what has become a humanitarian crisis.
Catholic Charities for the Rio Grande Valley operates a large service for Central American migrants. The group has a center in McAllen, Texas -- a city close to the Mexican border.
Ermana Norma Pimentel is the local Catholic Charities director. She says volunteers help process about 200 people a day. She says the new arrivals usually are very tired after a very long trip.
“It was sad to see them in those conditions. They needed to take a shower, they needed food. They needed clothing and so they (the volunteers) started to respond. The families here locally went to the bus station and actually helped these folks with some provisions.”
The group works with the government to make sure the immigrants are well-treated.
Marcela Riojas is a doctor. She says 90 percent of the Central American migrants are extremely tired and need water. If they are injured or very sick, they are sent to a hospital. Some of the women arriving are pregnant. Dr. Riojas says many of them are nearly ready to give birth. She says the women have traveled for more than a month, often without medical care or enough food and water.
“The journey itself is a high-risk travel or trip for any person, and being pregnant, well it puts you in a higher risk beyond the high-risk that you are at, because you don’t know exactly what the medical care has been before -- if the patient had already high pregnancy, a high-risk pregnancy, what medical conditions they have.”
Some immigrants are brought to McAllen after they have been registered at the border. Carl Henderson once worked as a border patrol agent. He says the registration, or documentation, process for every person takes four to five hours.
“Each one of these people have to be fingerprinted electronically, each one of ‘em has to be photographed, and you can imagine doing this with children. And then, there’s different rules for juveniles under a certain age and other juveniles, which again allows a lot of room for fraud and things. What we’re running, the Border Patrol tells me, now the agents I know now, they tell me they’re having a lot of pseudo-families -- pretend families. A guy’s coming up and he runs into some children who are coming up and he says here’s the deal: ‘I’ll be your uncle or I’ll be your dad, and this way we all get released, but if you don’t have an uncle or a dad, or a parent, somebody with you then you are going into detention, I am going into detention, it may take months for us to come out of it.’”
Mr. Henderson says people who pay others to bring them to the United States are making a big mistake. He says some of the traffickers, also known as coyotes, have been known to kill or injure the migrants. About a third of the women are raped on the trip. Some boys are sexually abused.
Even if the migrants reach the United States, the danger of the trip -- and the harm they have experienced -- will change their lives forever.
I’m Christopher Cruise.
This report was based on a story by VOA reporter Zlatica Hoke