Guest Post by Conchita Sarnoff, Executive Director of The Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking
On July 2nd, 2014, Ana Ruth Castillo Calles, a graceful and sweet thirty one year-old woman, and her son, Jason, age 3, were arrested in McAllen, Texas, after swimming through El Rio Grande while attempting to illegally cross the Mexico-U.S. border.
Ana and Jason
Along with 83,000 families, including 57,000 unaccompanied children, Ana is one of thousands of undocumented women attempting to escape Central America (specifically El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) in search of a safe existence and daily work in the United States.
The mass exodus began in late 2013 when these vulnerable women and children began saturating the U.S. border, unwittingly risking their lives crossing Central America, the treacherous Rio Grande and a three thousand-mile stretch made up of bewildering and hostile terrain that adjoins Mexico and the United States.
On the evening we met, in the barren desert town of Imperial, California, only a few miles west of Calexico, Ana sat dejected on a rickety plastic chair. I had decided to visit the border towns on the California side to investigate claims made earlier by Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) that many young women and children attempting the illegal crossing were missing and possibly being trafficked by drug syndicates and coyotes (smugglers who specialize in the Mexico–US border). Miranda Margowfky, a staff member working for Representative Cuellar, confirmed the Congressman’s claim via phone on July 3rd, a few days prior to my trip.
On the evening of July 3rd, after a series of conversations with law enforcement officials, Calexico Police Officer Luis Casillas, Vice President of the Calexico Police Union, proposed that I meet him at a straggly Laundromat. The Laundromat, located on an unlit street, felt even darker because of the creepy surroundings of this down-and-out section of downtown Imperial. It was there that Ana and three other women - all ranging between twenty and thirty five years of age - and several of their children were being held under protective custody by the Calexico Police Department.
Undocumented immigrants and their children under protective custody of Calexico Police Department
Ana and two other women who spoke on the condition of anonymity told me that they were afraid, tired and hungry. Since the day of their arrest Border Patrol had not allowed them and their children to bathe or given them a proper meal outside of an apple, a soft taco and soda. During processing, most of their belongings, including all the children’s clothing, had been stripped away and replaced by frayed, unsuitable second hand clothing that did not fit. She told me that the authorities at the McAllen Detention Facility had no compassion.
Officer Luis Casillas introduced me to Sergeant Rudy Alarcon, President of the Calexico Police Officers Union. Officer Jose Amaya, a Border Patrol official, revealed that one of the most disquieting facts about the mass exodus from Central America is the dangerous consequences that exist if these women and children are deported back. According to Sergeant Alarcon, the women and children “would face great danger, persecution, recruitment and violent repercussions at home by the MS gangs controlling their communities and a number of corrupt officials in El Salvador.”
Officer Luis Casillas, Bryan and Jason
The seemingly irrepressible sex trafficking that exists today in Latin America, together with extreme poverty, lack or limited access to secondary education, massive unemployment, extreme violence, recruitment of young boys and daily kidnappings by the all powerful Mara and other drug syndicates make up the driving force behind the massive migration to “El Norte.”
Those of us that are lucky enough to be American citizens must ask ourselves is if we would we risk our lives crossing treacherous terrain and scrape our life’s savings to pay a pollero nine thousand dollars ($9,000) to guide us through a deadly river for the sake of security and a higher standard of living for ourselves and our children, as Ana did.
If the answer is yes, then we might want to question President Obama’s current immigration policies that seem, at best, anti-American and, at worst, counterproductive to the values of the Democratic Party. It was these policies that led to the recent Central American exodus to begin with.