The Business Of Trafficking Undocumented Children
From El Diario
December 29, 2003
By Elizabeth Mora-Moss

Juan Carlos -- a Columbian from Medellín ­ impatiently counted the hours to December 22, 2003. That was the day that his six-year-old son would arrive. He hadn’t seen the child since he was 14 months old, when he was beginning to take his first steps and stammer his first words.

Juan Carlos’ son us one of the thousands of children from all over the world who cross the borders of the United State s illegally to reunite with their parents. The federal government accepts that 1.5 million undocumented immigrants that enter the country each year, and that 200,000 to 300,000 of these are children under the age of 12. Most cross through Mexico.

The same authorities accept that with the current methods of security and the difficulty of crossing the borders -- especially the US-Mexican border -- many parents prefer to send for their children, paying large sums of money to those who specialize in smuggling people.

In addition, the fact that drug dealing is converting itself into a multinational operation, coordinated by criminal organizations around the planet and the world’s strong terrorist groups has led many former smugglers to abandon drug smuggling. Many have decided to pick up the traffic of undocumented immigrants, an equally productive business with less danger. Their customers won’t report them and pay without a word, as it is their own lives on the line, or the lives of their loved ones.

The group that is most attracted to these “coyotes” are people with children. “These people are alone and they pay so that they can have their loved ones at their side,” said Michael Jordan, a father and a one of the principle defenders of the legalization of undocumented immigrants and family reunification. This project is opposed by all conservatives forces in the United States. Because of this, Republicans and Democrats have motive to oppose legalization as well, and President George Bush and the majority of Congress do not support a massive legalization.

During the holiday season, nostalgia for one’s family is stronger than ever. Many fathers like Juan Carlos work hard all year for the best Christmas present: to bring ones children. It is something they are willing to pay very good money for. The gangs that smuggle undocumented immigrants know this.

Juan Carlos and his wife arrived together in Miami four years ago, then came to New York.

It was Juan Carlos’ wife Lina who contacted José, the coyote who was coming with her son. “José has brought the children of several of my married friends,” she said. Lina and Juan Carlos had to wait three months for a quote. José works in coordination with several corrupt officials on both sides of the Rio Grande, so that the coast is clear, said Lina.

On the 22 of December, José called early to inform them that he had already set course for the airport with the children. In total there were five people in charge of José, other coyotes had brought other children , and everyone had gotten to their parents okay. “Today, everyone travels with children, and it is easier to bring them across,” José commented.

The coyote feels proud at not failing. “There are many coyotes that leave children because it’s easier,” he said. That is true. Currently, there are close to 2,000 undocumented children in centers of detention. In many cases, they do not know their last name or their nationality. “It’s a drama,” says José.

The Catholic Church ­ one of the entities that works most with undocumented immigrants at the border ­ has photos of dozens of undocumented children as young as two years old. Some don’t even know their first names. Many were found lost in the desert, or in cargo cars on trains.

The charge to bring a child into the United States varies depending on the country of origin and the child’s race. Mexican children pay between $1,500 and $2,500. “But they pay more if their skin is darker, or if their hair makes it possible that they will be confused for Caribbean,” said José. Central American children pay between $4,500 and $6,000.

Columbians, Venezuelans, and Ecuadorians pay between $7,500 and $9,000, more for the costs of transport. Argentine children pay between $12,000 and $15,000. The most expensive are Asian children, whose costs are between $30,000 and $45,000. “It’s expensive, but for parents to have their children is the most important,” said José.

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Translated from Spanish By Joshua Brustein

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