American journalism has begun to catch up with the news about child and young adult refugees from Central America, about 57,000 of whom have tried to find a new life in the U.S. this year, in many many cases to escape murder and terrorization by the the gangs who dominate their neighborhoods.
An excellent story in the LA TImes this week on the subject began this way:
By the time Isaias Sosa turned 14, he'd already seen 15 bullet-riddled bodies laid out in his neighborhood of Cabañas, one of the most violent in this tropical metropolis. He rarely ventured outside his grandmother's home, fortified with a wrought iron gate and concertina wire.
But what pushed him to act was the death of his pregnant cousin, who was gunned down in 2012 by street gang members at the neighborhood gym. Sosa loaded a backpack, pocketed $500 from his mother's purse, memorized his aunt's phone number in Washington state and headed for southern Mexico, where he joined others riding north on top of one of the freight trains known as La Bestia, or the Beast.
Crossing the Rio Grande into Texas, Sosa was apprehended almost immediately by Border Patrol agents as he desperately searched for water.
After a second unsuccessful attempt to enter the U.S. last fall, he now spends most of his days cooped up at home, dreaming of returning yet again.
"Everywhere here is dangerous," he said. "There is no security. They kill people all the time."
"It's a sin to be young in Honduras."
Last month a deeply informed New York Times story on the wave of young people from these regions found kids leaving these different countries for largely different reasons. From Honduras, they left to avoid being murdered.
“Basically, the places these people are coming from are the places with the highest homicide rates,” said Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research group. “The parents see gang membership around the corner. Once your child is forced to join, the chances of being killed or going to prison is pretty high. Why wait until that happens?”
A confluence of factors, including discounted rates charged by smugglers for families, helped ignite the boom, he said. Children are killed for refusing to join gangs, over vendettas against their parents, or because they are caught up in gang disputes. Many activists here suggest they are also murdered by police officers willing to clean up the streets by any means possible.
The trauma makes the hatred shown to these youngsters all the more painful to bear.
A friend named Rain Perry, a classy singer/songwriter, for her wonderful monthly semi-improvisational Song Game, rewrote Woody's classic on the same subject, Deportee, for today, and touchingly so. I'll post the full lyrics below, for the curious, but here's the chorus and a concluding verse, which just kill me.
Is this the best way we can secure our borders?
Is this the best way we can fight the drug war?
Screaming at children who have crawled through the desert
In a country build by...refugees.
Fleeing the streets of my Chamelecon
Was like jumping from the window of a building in flames
They're sending the first ones back to Honduras
All I can think is to try it again
[I'll also post or link to a basic recording of her singing her version of Woody's "Deportee," backed by JB White.]
And, in tribute to Woody Guthrie in his 102nd year, here is a page of Woody's notes. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame, who was part of the Mermaid Avenue group that put to music some of the many songs Guthrie never finished, told NPR that being allowed to go through his diary and notes was like being allowed to touch a sacred historical object, comparable to the Declaration of Independence.