EL PASO, Texas: Just a few kilometers on the outskirts of El Paso on the US border with the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, I lean against the long wire mesh fence that keeps out the flood of migrants and asylum seekers from Central America and Mexico seeking the safety and economic prosperity of the United States. It is silent and deserted but for a few houses on the Mexican side. Asylum seekers and refugees from violence and poverty will not attempt an illegal entry to the United States here, it is too well guarded for a successful crossing.
It is here against the fence that the spiritual unity between the communities on either side of the border is renewed and strengthened by an annual Eucharistic celebration attended by hundreds on both sides of the fence led by the US and Mexican bishops.
My guide, Columban Missionary Roberto Mosher, from the Columban Mission Center, points toward Mexico to the Parish in Rancho Anapra where his fellow missionaries fathers Kevin Mullins and Bill Morton bring comfort, support and inspiration to the people who have lost loved ones to the violence and those separated from friends and relatives by the international border fence.
Juarez is called the most dangerous city in the world and in 2010 alone as many as 3,000 were murdered there. The number killed from January to March this year is 81 in all and this is expected to rise.
Since 9/11 the easy coming and going across the border came to an end and stricter surveillance, vigilance and apprehension is now the order of the day, every day and night.
But further along the border the fence runs out and the desert takes over. Hundreds of migrants endure the dangers and risks of death in the parched dry desert under a blazing sun. Such is their desperation to escape poverty and hardship and join relatives in the prosperous and safety of the United States. Many die in the desert abandoned by their paid guides called “Coyotes”.
The thousands that try to cross over are fleeing the harsh poverty, land confiscation, political oppression, police and gang violence of the drug cartels that make life dangerous, precarious and no place for a child to grow up. The most precarious and violence ridden countries are Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Oligarchies made up of a few super rich families in cahoots with multinational corporations allow economic exploitation and rule their poverty-ridden and exploited countries with brutal police forces causing thousands to flee.
Many of those children that make it over the border and claim asylum are detained, some are released to relatives in the United States to await the decision on their asylum claims. Some are unsuccessful and are deported back to the crime-ridden and violent streets of Mexico where some towns are like war zones.
Last October 2014 six people were shot and killed by Mexican police as they marched in the town of Chilpancingo, capital of Mexico’s Guerrero, state protesting the disappearance of 43 students. They were later found to have been turned over to a criminal gang by the police for execution and extermination. The local mayor has been arrested and accused of being behind the killings and 22 officers from the city of Iguala were detained and charged with homicide.
That is just one example of the lawlessness and drug-driven violence that is pushing desperate people north toward the border in the hope of a job to support their hungry families left behind and seeking safety for the children that are sent to the border in ever increasing numbers.
By September 2014 the number of unaccompanied children being sent across the border for safety and a secure life with relatives and friends was 60,000, up from 20,000 in 2009.
Even before they cross the border, many of the young women and children are in grave danger from human traffickers who enslave some of them in the brothels of Juarez, the city of violence due to drug cartels and criminal people-smugglers. The sex tourists from the north travel down to exploit their young innocent bodies whom the traffickers enslave forever. This is the worst evil of the migration crises.
The rich and wealthy of Juarez have moved into the calm and order of El Paso, one of the safest cities in the United States. Approximately 11 million people are living in the United States illegally. A law giving them a road to citizenship passed by the Senate has been rejected by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
When children do cross illegally into the United States and when they are from a country other than Mexico and Canada they are sent to a secure shelter to be processed and it can take 35 days. This is according to an 2008 anti-trafficking law.
God knows how much the victims of the criminals need care compassion and protection. The United States can provide that at little or no cost. A new anti-trafficking law passed last April 22, 2015 promises just that, financial aid for the victims to be paid for from a fund with the confiscated money of the traffickers, the drug cartels and human smugglers.
Yet it is the community of caring people that can only give the emotional support, understanding and compassion that these young people desperately need. The bureaucratic process for children needs to be shortened, and made less arduous and frightening. Easier and greater access should be given to more trained and accredited caregivers who can bring friendship and welcome to these unfortunate scared and traumatized children.