Placard-wielding protesters filled the front steps of New Haven’s federal court building to spread a message: The unaccompanied children coming over the Mexican border aren’t freeloaders; they’re refugees.
Carlos Ventura Escalante (pictured), a 17-year-old from Guatemala, conveyed that message with his own personal story. Fleeing drug gangs in his hometown, he undertook a perilous journey across several borders, enduring hunger and cold and being held hostage for a time by a “coyote,” he said.
Carlos, now a student at Wilbur Cross High School, was one of dozens of activists and immigrants who rallied Thursday evening at the courthouse on Church Street. Protesters called on President Obama and the federal government to reduce deportations by adopting new immigration policies, particularly regarding children and families.
The protest comes amid a surge of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing the Mexican border. Protesters denounced Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis by setting up new detention facilities, conduct aerial surveillance of the border, and hire more immigration judges and border patrol agents.
The “mass exodus” from Central America resulted from violence and poverty, conditions the U.S. government played a role in creating by supporting oppressive regimes and creating crippling trade agreements, argued Evelyn Nunez (pictured), a member of Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA).
Obama’s $3.7 billion request is to “speed up deportations,” she said. “We cannot let that happen.”
Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president, more than 2 million.
“I’m asking Obama to stop deportations,” said Josemaria Islas (pictured), the New Havener whose detention by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (iCE) agency drew protest from activists and public officials. The deportation proceedings against him are currently stayed.
“The children deserve justice, too,” he said.
Nunez read off a list of actions that Obama should take to immediately take to improve immigration policy. Among them, revise ICE’s enforcement priorities to exclude children and people with strong community ties; end the mass incarceration of immigrants, particularly by private prison companies; help reunite families by allowing previously deported immigrants to return for humanitarian reasons.
“Ni una mas deportación!” the crowd chanted. “Not one more deportation!”
After the rally, Carlos spoke about his experience as a teenage immigrant, crossing the U.S. border illegally.
Carlos said he comes from San Marcos, in the western part of Guatemala, where mining companies have poisoned the drinking water. Combined with a drought, “a lot of people are suffering.” Many children suffer domestic violence, he said.
He said he was also facing danger from gangs, known as “maras.”
“They were forcing me to join their gang and sell drugs and give them money,” he said. “They told me they would kill me and hurt my family. That’s why I came.” (Click here for a story about how his story mirrors those of other children crossing the U.S. border.)
Carlos left Guatemala and traveled through Mexico to the border. He hired a “coyote” — someone paid to help immigrants cross illegally — to get him across. He had to endure days without food, and freezing water temperatures as he crossed the Rio Grande.
It was “a type of suffering you can’t imagine,” he said.
Then the coyote demanded $6,000. “He said if I didn’t pay he would sell me to a different country,” Carlos said. “I was scared.”
Eventually, Carlos’ brother, a landscaper who lives in New Haven, was able to borrow money from an employer, a debt he’s still paying off. Carlos arrived in New Haven in March.
“We are not criminals,” Carlos said of himself and other young people fleeing desperate circumstance to come to the U.S.
“Kids are not coming just because they want to, said Yazmin Rodriguez, an immigration lawyer. “They’re coming because they have no other option. Sending them back is a grave injustice.”
posted by: Pat from Westville on July 11, 2014 11:33am
Thank you, Thomas, for putting a face and a voice to this recent crisis, and as well for the link to the New York Times article on this subject. Reading it I asked myself, how are these Central American children any different from the hundreds of thousands of Irish fleeing the horrors of the potato famine of the 1840s, when a third of the population died from starvation, with the bodies of entire families lying unburied for lack of someone to bury them.
I also think of the students in Tien An Men Square in 1989 and their statue of the Goddess of Liberty (which looked an awful lot like Lady Liberty in New York harbor). Of how oppressed people still believe in America, in the country of freedom and democracy, compassion and welcome to immigrants, that Emma Lazarus believed in. And how this belief persists despite so much recent evidence to the contrary. I find it especially disheartening that politicians with Hispanic names (Marco Rubio, to name just one) are leading the anti-immigrant mobs.
I still believe that one of this country’s strengths is that we are, in JFK’s words, a nation of immigrants. I learned that in my (Catholic) grade school in the 1950s, and again from President Kennedy’s book of the same name.
Sending these children back into the dragon’s mouth and saying that their countries need to clean up the problem will mean many more deaths while waiting for official reform from their governments. In my opinion, that makes us responsible, complicit in these deaths.
So I say to Carlos, and to all of the refugee children, “Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos.” (Which, I am sure will inspire comments by all the usual ranters and nay-sayers in cyber space.)
posted by: Noteworthy on July 11, 2014 12:46pm
With all due respect Pat, there is zero similarities between the Irish Potatoe famine on the children storming the borders. Read up on your history a little bit. Sure this country is one of immigrants - but the Irish and others we have welcomed with streamlined immigration have been real refugees not fleeing poverty, but fleeing war, starvation and genocide. I can’t help but wonder if we are not being played for fools by those who would manipulate this country’s great humanitarian heart and love of children and families.
The children are not coming just on their own all of a sudden - they’re being sent.
posted by: TheMadcap on July 11, 2014 2:20pm
“The children are not coming just on their own all of a sudden - they’re being sent.”
Yes, they’re being sent to escape the terribleness of their own homes to try find a safe refuge. Nothing is different, right now to people trying to pretend something is different as they do in every immigration wave for the past 170 years.
posted by: GMHKav on July 11, 2014 2:23pm
Indeed these children present America with some tough choices. The choices are even tougher in present day America than they were in earlier times of immigration. Up until the 1960’s most immigrants were taken care of by their own long hard work, or by some of their families already here or through church/charitable organizations, etc. From the 1970’ to present, the American welfare and public educational systems have grown at exponential rates putting a real strain on the middle classes’s resources through higher and higher taxation. In short, how do we balance our desires to be good people, while understanding that with each successive expansion, of an already soft immigration policy, we grow increasingly concerned that we will not have enough to be able to take care of our own?
posted by: FacChec on July 11, 2014 2:46pm
@ Pat from Westville.
Based on your analysis of the reporting on this story by the NHI and the NY Times; “Sending these children back into the dragon’s mouth and saying that their countries need to clean up the problem will mean many more deaths while waiting for official reform from their governments. In my opinion, that makes us responsible, complicit in these deaths”.
Well Pat from Westville, you have never publically made such a wanton statement concerning the children across the U.S. cities that continue to face the same level, if not more violence, for the past thirty years, brought about by the drug smuggling from the very same countries.
In the 1840, the U.S. did not have the immigration policies and laws it has today. Indeed, during and after World War II, post 1945, millions of immigrants were allowed into the U.S. because of violence produced by war. Since World War II the congress have set limits on the number reasons and races of peoples allowed into the country. Historically, the U.S. has been free and open to the masses free of deportation, thereby relegating your criticism today as unconscionable and unjustified.
In 2008 the congress passed and President Bush signed a law setting up the guidelines for entry and deportation of immigrates entering illegally from non- continuance countries, Carlos said he comes from San Marcos, in the western part of Guatemala which is a country affected by the law. We are a country of laws and legislators like your state legislator Pat Dillon from Westville is sworn to uphold and enforce those laws.
Yes, we are the nay-Sayers who say we are tired of paying the $3.7 and more millions to clean up a problem that rages in the cities of the U.S. unabated by action from congress, or the Guatemala government.
From the 1970’ to present, the American “welfare and public educational systems have grown at exponential rates putting a real strain on the middle classes’s resources through higher and higher taxation”
Your taxes(and this is true for everyone no matter what bracket you’re in) are at an all time low, so no. And no, federal spending hasn’t increased exponentially http://blogs.asee.org/policy/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/BudGDP.jpg As is shown, spending as GDP percent has not blown sky high and the largest increase in a ratio to GDP has been mandatory spending, most of which is SS and Medicare. Also what is it, are immigrants coming here to take our jobs or our welfare? The CBO also disagrees with the idea immigrants are really costing us anything even if we fully legalized them, in fact, legalizing immigrants despite nominally making more people entitled to assistance programs has economic benefits so great it would considerably reduce the federal deficit. http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44397
CBO and JCT estimate that enacting S. 744, as passed by the Senate, would generate changes in direct spending and revenues that would decrease federal budget deficits by $158 billion over the 2014-2023 period (see Table 1, enclosed with this letter). CBO also estimates that implementing the legislation would result in net discretionary costs of $23 billion over the 2014-2023 period, assuming appropriation of the amounts authorized or otherwise needed to implement the legislation. Combining those figures would lead to a net savings of about $135 billion over the 2014-2023 period from enacting S. 744. However, the net impact of the legislation on federal deficits would depend on future actions by lawmakers, who could choose to appropriate more or less than the amounts estimated by CBO. In addition, the total amount of discretionary funding is currently capped (through 2021) by the Budget Control Act of 2011; extra funding for the purposes of this legislation might lead to…
posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on July 11, 2014 4:54pm
If 100% of applications for entry and residency where accepted, there would still be quotas for how many people are allowed to enter each year, many would be denied and illegal immigration would continue. The only “reform” that will stop illegal immigration is completely opening the borders.
If you think we should grant more visas, advocate for that. If you think the process for applying should be simpler, advocate for that. Don’t advocate that we continue to turn a blind eye to the laws we have in place while simultaneous saying “well these folks are here because we turned a blind eye, so we should let them stay”. Proximity shouldn’t give immigrants an unfair advantage in entry.
posted by: Shaggybob on July 11, 2014 4:58pm
I don’t agree with allowing all these people to be sent and freely flow into the country.
I would explain, but apparently following the commenting rules to the letter still gets you censored.
posted by: Don in New Haven on July 12, 2014 11:39am
Will Carlos find gangs and violence in NH?
Does NH have drug gangs like the ones he ran away from?
Do many NH children suffer from domestic violence?
Does his story mirror those of NH children who have lived here all their lives?
Carlos is now 17 years old. Will he register with Selective Service next year when he turns 18?
Has Carlos and hundreds of thousands of others come illegally into the US with a dream that cannot come true?
None of what I see, hear, or read about these tales tells me that any of this new phenomenon will improve US economy or employment. It will only create new drags on every part of US life.
The US should work with the governments of the countries from whom the children are fleeing to improve their economies, safety and health. Reducing their young population will create difficult problems in the future.
posted by: OhHum on July 12, 2014 4:34pm
If everyone who supports the mass migration of children from Central America into the U.S. would just sponsor one or two of the children by taking them into their homes and taking care of them as one of their own, perhaps there wouldn’t be such an outcry to deport them. But then that means putting some skin into the game instead of acting outraged that others don’t want to take care of them. Act like you mean it and don’t just posture. Signing on is a big move it has to last a lifetime.It’s not just an idea it’s a life.
posted by: tERROT on July 12, 2014 5:55pm
And so it begins, again.
posted by: TheMadcap on July 12, 2014 9:34pm
FYI supporting securing the border and also supporting a way for people already living here in our communities to stay here legally are two different thing. You can in fact support both(as I do)
That’s an incredible idea! I can’t believe no one has yet raised it; to think that such a simple yet elegant policy solution first appeared here, in the Independent comments section.
My only—minor, really—suggestion is that your idea doesn’t go far enough. Let’s make all government activity ala carté. For example, everyone howling to deport these children could offer to drive one to the border. Those who support US military action around the world can, as you say, ‘put some skin into the game’ by grabbing a gun and heading overseas. All of you in favor of mass incarcerations? Take custody of a non-violent drug offender and keep him secure in your basement for the term of his sentence. Tired of high taxes but still want to drive your SUV everywhere? Form a work crew (you’ll probably need help for this) and start maintaining the closest stretch of federal or state highway. I could go on, but you get the idea. I’m not sure which of those you would be into, but I’m sure you’ll “act like you mean it and not just posture” on whatever cause interests you.
posted by: Don in New Haven on July 13, 2014 6:28pm
Do we really know why the children are coming? Read this article to gain a tiny bit of insight.
No, I don’t believe that they are only coming to escape violence and gangs. Many or most are coming to earn money for their families back in their old homeland where life is difficult and many are poor.