Child immigrants at risk of death

In March, a little girl died scared and alone in a shelter in Mexico, lost on a perilous journey from the mountains of Ecuador to join her family in New York, more than 3,000 miles away. The death of 12-year old Noemi Alvarez Quilloy puts a tragic, human face on the U.S. failure to adopt meaningful immigration reform.

It also underscores how needlessly dangerous it has become for families living on either side of the U.S. border to be “whole”. Sadly, Noemi’s death is not the first, nor the last, we will see. According to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the number of unaccompanied minors caught entering the United States is expected to reach 60,000 for the year ending Sept. 30, 2014, an increase from 6,560 in 2011.

In cases such as Noemi’s, parents pay “coyotes” — human smugglers — to bring their children to this country.

The route is dangerous, illegal and expensive: According to the Department of Homeland Security, smugglers’ fees have risen to between $3,000 and $10,000 for migrants from Latin America, who make up 70 percent of those trying to cross the border from Mexico.

Migrant children often face abuse and violence at the hands of coyotes and the many other shadowy characters they come across on their long, harrowing journeys, says the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In Noemi’s case, she and the man her parents hired were detained in Mexico. Her death by hanging in a children’s shelter was ruled a suicide.

In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, the focus must be on prevention of this activity. Ecuador is working with our consulates across the United States to counsel parents to put the safety of their children above their unbreakable yearning to see and hold them again. Family reunification is the primary reason that Ecuadorean children attempt the risky journey.

The problem is much bigger than Ecuador. As a matter of fact, most U.S. government statistics put Ecuador at the low end of unauthorized immigration pool.

According to the Pew Center for Hispanic Trends, there are approximately 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Of those, 6 million hail from Mexico alone. Approximately 100,000 are from Ecuador.

Many of these immigrants are parents who led the way for their children and other family members, fleeing violence, instability and inequality in their home countries.

The U.S. government has attempted to stem the tide of illegal crossings — and the appeal of coyotes — by issuing a “warning” to migrants thinking of crossing the border that they will not qualify for any U.S. immigration reform laws, such as amnesty.

Indeed, the Senate-passed reform bill, since shot down by the U.S. House of Representatives, provided a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, but only those who entered the United States prior to Dec. 30, 2011. In addition to sending a message to those considering the perilous journey now, the Senate bill would have helped parents who had been in the United States as undocumented immigrants prior to this date, as was the case for Noemi’s parents.

Short of immigration reform, there is more we can do in Latin America to nip the undocumented migration process in the bud.

For example, Ecuador’s economy is among the fastest growing in Latin America. After decades of political and economic instability, the government of President Rafael Correa has made the country an attractive place to live, work and invest.

The promise of a better life in the United States is among the primary reasons parents have made the dangerous journey to the border in the first place. Ecuadoreans can now find that in Ecuador. Many other countries in Latin America are also growing quickly.

We must do a better job of communicating this to our families.

We must also support immigration reform that creates a humane path for citizenship for the many families from Latin America who live and work in the U.S. illegally.

Only this can put an end to the tragedy and violence children face each day trying to reach their families.

Nathalie Cely is Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    Smartphones can help fight AIDS

    Coming in third may mean a bronze medal at the Olympics, but in Florida, data shows that three is not a cause for celebration. The Sunshine State ranks third in the nation for the cumulative number of AIDS cases, and it’s the third worst state for physician shortages.



    Border crisis overshadows trade progress

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry made headlines recently by ordering 1,000 National Guard troops to the border. This bravado comes at a price: $12 million a month. Perry plans to send the bill the federal government. That’s one way to finance your presidential campaign ads.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">ON THE EDGE:</span> An Israeli reserve tank stands near the Israeli-Gaza border as frantic efforts were underway on the diplomatic front to end the fighting at the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.


    This is a fight Israel did not seek

    The current conflict in Gaza was not of Israel’s choosing. Israelis, like all civilized humans, are shocked and saddened by the loss of innocent life and the destruction of war. While Israel had done everything possible to avoid large-scale armed confrontation, the immediate and lethal threat to the lives of its civilian population left the government with no choice but to defend its citizens.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category