Why Are Children Risking Everything to Cross The U.S. Border Into America?
McALLEN, Texas - The federal government estimates that 90,000 unaccompanied immigrant children will cross the border on their own this year. That's 10 times the number from just a few years ago.
Add to that the number of young mothers coming with their children and it equals an incredible flood of immigrants.
CBN News traveled to the border town of McAllen, Texas, considered the epicenter of the current surge, to find out more about these immigrants and why they're coming.
'They Will Help You'
In the Border Patrol stations in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, supplies like infant formula and Pedialyte make certain areas resemble a daycare center. At the same time, children are packed into rooms intended for only a few.
They're coming mainly from three Central American countries: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
To learn more about these children, we visited a Christian shelter across the border in Reynosa, Mexico. Here children and adult immigrants will often rest after a long journey through Mexico before they decide whether to cross the border into the United States.
CBN News met "Brayan" at the shelter. The 15-year-old told us he traveled 1,500 miles from Honduras to find work in the United States and provide a better life for his mom.
"Before leaving Honduras I fasted a lot," he told us. "I told God, 'Help me, Lord. I want to help my family get ahead in life.'"
"Brayan" also explained a dream he had that motivated him to go.
"People would tell me [in the dream], 'If immigration catches you, they will help you a lot,'" he said.
Sending the Kids
As our bi-lingual producer Maira Alejandra spoke with "Brayan" and others, a clearer picture emerged beyond the usual immigration talking points coming out of Washington.
First, the journey from the three main sending countries is expensive. Smugglers often charge families $4,000 per child.
Also, the trek is dangerous with Mexican drug cartels quick to assault, kill or traffic vulnerable children and women.
Some, like 15-year-old "Wilmer," travel alone and hop trains to try and cross quickly.
"One of the hardest parts of my trip here was riding the train, enduring the cold, rain and running the risk of falling off the train," Wilmer told us.
We also learned that a so-called "perfect storm" of events has led thousands of families to choose now to send their children across the border.
We met "Maribel" in the Guatemalan consulate in McAllen. She was attempting to pick up her friends' detained children after they received a call from Border Patrol.
"Maribel" said the parents recently paid a smuggler after hearing that that Border Patrol would release kids to their parents in the United States.
"The parents started to say, 'Okay, this is the time,'" she explained. "Because everybody thinks it's easy."
Rumors of Amnesty?
Ana Bulnes, who heads the Honduran consulate in McAllen, said many parents have believed the same rumor.
"It's believed that the parents who are living in the United States have been misinformed about some sort of amnesty that the U.S. government would be providing the minor with once they set foot on American soil," she said.
Those kind of statements provide ammunition to President Barack Obama's critics. It's why Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible 2016 presidential contender, said the president's immigration policies have failed.
Liberals quickly point to escalating violence in Central America as a root cause for the surge. CBN News found that was also a common motivation.
At a temporary immigrant shelter for women and children run by Catholic Charities in McAllen, we spoke with "Lilian," a young single Honduran mom. She told us that gangs and violence ruled life in her city.
"I had a temporary job," she explained. "I would get out at 8 p.m. I couldn't go into my neighborhood [then] because they would kill me."
A Chance to Live
That leads to one subject that both sides can agree on: these immigrants have suffered a great deal for the chance to live in America.
Their pain is also leaving a mark on the local church volunteers hearing their stories.
Jeanette Ahlenius, who washes bedding for a shelter, helped one young mom abandoned by smugglers before they reached the border.
"She was dropped off, no food, maybe water once in awhile. She was able to nurse her baby during that period of time, but the baby was growing weaker and weaker," Ahlenius said. "Most of the time they were literally outside in the brush, so by the time I saw the baby, [it was] covered with bug bites, totally dehydrated."
Going forward, it's clear that the process of sorting out who stays and who is sent back will take months if not years.
Some women and children who fled violence will stay as refugees. Others will stay as trafficking victims and others will face deportation.
Laws vs. Compassion
Texas Sen. John Cornyn spoke to CBN News about the process after visiting the Border Patrol station in McAllen.
"This is an opportunity to treat these young children and other migrants in a humanitarian sort of way," the Republican lawmaker told CBN News. "The difficulty, I think, lies in where does the line get drawn and where does a rule-based society intersect with our compassion?"
Ultimately, Cornyn believes an immigration system with clearly enforced rules is most humane. No one knows, of course, just how many of the immigrants in this current surge will be allowed to stay.
So for now, young "Brayan" is staying safe in the shelter before he decides whether or not he'll cross. "Wilmer" on the other hand, has decided to return home.
"I took a risk with my brother to help my mom, but now I am here alone and I lost my brother," he said. "I want to go back."
"Lilian" said she will continue to pray and trust God for a better life for her daughter.
"The judge will decide whether we get to stay or we get deported," she said. "And, well, God is great and mighty and only He knows. If it's for our welfare, great. And if I get sent back to my country, it's okay. It will be God's will."