Learning from Enrique - Page 2

A journalist joins the immigrant trains to gain perspective on a divisive issue

Nazario, during her trip, was once hit in the face with a branch and nearly tumbled off the train top, an experience she describes as "harrowing."


The ubiquity of bandits and harmful forces along the railroads is not without a yang to its yin. The enormous compassion of the people of Veracruz, an impoverished region in the south of Mexico, made an indelible impact on Nazario. When trains pass by villages, crowds of supportive villagers throw food and water to the migrants. When townsfolk have no material possessions to share with the immigrants, they offer them their prayers.

Nazario has not only studied the physical dangers experienced by undocumented immigrants during their northbound trips but also analyzed the psychological toll taken by splitting up families. Enrique and many children like him have often wondered of their absent mothers, "Does she really love me?" Enrique, whose mother left him when he was five and was apart from him for 11 years, would stare out his window every Christmas during his mother's absence, hoping for her return.

Hundreds of thousands of Latin American children have trouble adjusting socially without parental guidance. Given that many fathers in Latin America's third world enclaves "stray in more ways than one," as Nazario said, many mothers come to the US to find work. Sometimes children like Enrique grow up resenting, even hating, their mothers. Most mothers, Nazario learned, only intend to be away for a year or two, but when they discover that the quality of life and opportunities in America aren't quite as golden as advertised, their stays become extended indefinitely.

Nazario learned through countless interviews that many children left behind can't fully comprehend why their mothers left, and they say they'd rather remain penniless than apart.


The immigration debate is hotly contested in the US, particularly in the wake of the May Day protests and the George W. Bush administration's failure to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package. Rather than bombard listeners and readers with ideological pleas to mend America's broken immigration system, Nazario mixed her humanizing account of the immigrants' hardships with relevant facts. Dedicated journalist that she is, she parroted neither the La Raza talking points nor Pat Buchanan's.

Around 100,000 children like Enrique cross the US border annually in search of their parents. And while the US permits about one million immigrants to enter the country legally each year, they are joined by an additional 850,000 people who enter illegally. Business interests seeking "cheap and compliant" labor lobby on behalf of the influx of undocumented workers, Nazario explained.

Undocumented immigrants undoubtedly do many jobs that Americans won't, Nazario noted, most prominently agricultural and domestic work.

That said, the large number of undocumented immigrants does undercut wages for some Americans and denies citizens and legal immigrants jobs in fields like construction.


"The women I talked to said it wouldn't take radical changes to keep them in Honduras," Nazario told her audience. The US, she argued, must play a more proactive role in helping Latin American nations develop their economies. For instance, many products the US imports from China could just as easily be manufactured in countries like Honduras, which would dramatically reduce the number of illegal immigrants from Central America and keep more families together.

In an e-mail to the Guardian, Nazario said that if the US is serious about reducing the flow of undocumented immigrants through its borders, it should not only supply foreign aid to nations in need but also provide "micro-loans through NGO's to women to create jobs in these countries.

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