Central American Children’s Testimony Humanizes Debate Around Unaccompanied Minors

Written by on July 30, 2014 in Legislation with 14 Comments


Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus convened a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to add another dimension to the the ongoing debate around unaccompanied children from Central America arriving in large numbers at our southern border. Three children, who were once unaccompanied minors from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, testified to the violence they experienced which hastened their journeys to the U.S.

One of the children, who spoke emotionally of her experience, was 12-year-old Mayeli Hernandez.  During her testimony  she explained that she had been treated better by the human smugglers who brought her to the country than by U.S. immigration authorities. The Arizona Republic reported:

Mayeli Hernandez, 12, also spoke of the cold detention centers. Her long dark hair almost hid her face as she quietly read her testimony in Spanish. She rubbed tears from her eyes while describing her loneliness after her mother left Honduras for the United States when Mayeli was 8.

Mayeli and her younger sister left Honduras in July 2013 because they were afraid of the violence and because her younger sister suffered from epilepsy.

Before she fled, Mayeli said she saw two people slain in Honduras. “It was very ugly to see the blood running on the ground,” she said.

“Please protect children like me and my little sister,” she said. “We can’t go back to our countries because they’re very dangerous and very poor.”

Saul Martinez, a 15 year old, provided poignant testimony of his experiences in his native El Salvador:

 “I have seen horrors that no child ought to see,” he said, looking toward the members of Congress.

MS-13 gang members threatened to kill him if he rode his bicycle through their neighborhood. He was afraid if he stayed in El Salvador, he would be asked to join a gang or be killed.

Martinez was caught after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas. He was held with about 200 other children. It was the worst experience of his life, Martinez said, calling the center “the icebox.”

He said he was very weak after spending six days there, because he wasn’t given enough food, was always cold and couldn’t sleep because guards came in every two hours, counting the children. There was only one bathroom for all 200 occupants.

The “ice boxes” that Martinez referenced, also known as “hieleras” have come under increasing scrutiny as more individuals have come forward with stories of their detentions in freezing rooms with no proper clothes or blankets to protect them from the cold.

It is impossible to listen to the real life stories of these children without wondering why the debate has turned so ugly. If members of Congress were to take the lessons of this hearing to heart, they would ensure that these children are properly cared for, receive a fair hearing, and have a chance at a better life. At a minimum, such stories should shift the focus away from viewing this influx at the border as an immigration enforcement crisis, and towards an emergency response in which compassion is the dominant theme.

Photo Courtesy of C-Span.

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  • corazon

    I blame the US influence on Central America. the Drug War.. the Drug Cartels of Mexico have taken control of the vulnerable poor people in these Countries, the poor.. I have seen and experienced this 1st hand… The laws must change, when the US DEA went after the “Cachiro” of Honduras, the Cartel moved in, ruthless as in Mexico, killing, raping, Kidnapping… Demanding Security money from the very people who have nothing to pay with…. Time for Change… Provide these people with a special Visa!!!!!

    • Will

      Everyone blames the US for their problems. While the US does share part of the blame (minimal), it is the corruption and selfishness of the people of these countries that keeps them in the cellar. Money goes to politicians pockets instead of education and healthcare services. Cops are paid so poorly that the only way to sustain a living is by taking bribes. These countries and the residents of them must look in the mirror and understand that they are mainly to blame for the deterioration of thier society and it is due to their lack of education and poor values. They all claim to be very religous/high moral people but would not help their own people. Just look at the philanthropy statistics in these countries.
      I am in favor of the US packing up shop and turning off the assistance to all countries. Time to take care of our own and lets see how much of the blame we still recieve when the support stops. The US is in a horrible position because no matter what we are damned if we do and damned if we dont. SO I would rather help those within our borders.

      • Jesucristo

        Will – you need to carefully read and study not only the history of the drug demand IN the USA, but also the history of the exploitation by multinational corporations based in the USA, like the American US FRUIT Co., that in the past century and a half have drained Latin American countries of their natural and human resources while making large profits BUT having to support their corrupt governments that have been accomplices of these modern day crimes against humanity. The result is millions of US born citizens addicts to cocaine and heroin and an increasing consumption by them that creates violent drug mafias here and there.The US by supporting corrupt governments in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala has caused the wars that have torn the stability of these and many other Latin American countries. Good people have fled these conditions to the US due to the great difference of well being and opportunity that exist here because we have become ultra rich and greedy but only thinking of ourselves while we sit and watch their societies become poorer and poorer and with hardly any opportunities, security nor a decent future for their citizens. It is not going to work in the long run. All these inequalities we created over the last 150 years we will have to live with, and deal with the consequences and hopefully learn that exploiting our neighbor’s South of the border is not working and will not work. In Europe the strong countries protect the weak ones so that their citizens will CHOOSE to remain in their homeland that has a decent living conditions rather than migrating to Germany or England, actually the migration is of Germans and English retiring in Spain and Greece. We need to treat our neighbor’s as we want to be treated. Unfortunately, we are NOT doing so to our detriment. Educate yourself by reading the facts and analyzing the situation before you write comments about isolating ourselves from the rest of the world, which nowadays in a global economy, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE! IT IS ONE WORLD, ONE PEOPLE! You think the multinationals are going “TO PACK UP SHOP” and turn their backs on making great profits with cheap labor and abundant natural resources? They are, as we speak, trying to figure out how they are going to get to all the lithium resources in Bolivia to keep on RAKING PROFITS while exploiting our neighbor’s South of the border. Please read and study to become educated instead of speaking without without a sound foundation on facts. We all ready have enough problems with our reputation as the UGLY AMERICANS! Let’s not make it worst rejecting to give poor children a much deserved hand, NOT A HAND-OUT!

        • Will

          I actually live and work in central and south america (7 years). In addition to living and working here, I have access to data and studies that contradict what you are saying. The US (USAID) sends millions and millions of dollars to these countries every year so to say we sit back and watch is false. Also look at the philanthropy data by country. Individuals in the US donate more time and money than most countries throughout the world. It is the Ultra Rich in these countries dont give back or help their own people.
          The migration of Spanish to South America has been enormous over the past 3 years (Due to high unemployment rate in Spain). And the European countries do not protect the weak. The English ravaged half of the globe and treated the Irish and Scottish as slaves. Not to mention the European treatment of African countries.
          I am not asking multinational corporations to “Pack Up Shop”. I am asking the US Government to pack up shop. The previous comment blamed the US Government not multinational corporations.
          While I do agree that opportunites and quality of life are better in the US and that corportations (US, European, Asian) have taken advantage of poor laws (labor and environmental) we have to identify the reason why “good people” are leaving their countries and it isnt the fault of the US. It is the lack of education, morals, and values of the people of these countries. I speak constantly with people who have returned to their countries in central and south america and they do not blame the US for their countries situation rather they blame their own people and corrupt governments.
          Before you tell people to educate themselves with facts understand that every opinión or point of view has a document to support that view or opinión. My advice to you is to live it. Live in various countries and work in them and talk to the people. I have lived in 5 (S.America, Western Europe, and Central America) not including the US.

          • tecun

            I like to know where are all these millions of dollars exactly end up? if you say the politicians or the ultra-rich, then no wonder it doesn’t get to the people in need…but if that is actually the case why would USAID and the philanthropist would continue to pour millions of dollars if the money doesn’t actually get to the most needed?
            you’re trying to give us an ultra-brief lesson in history, however the history you’re exposing to us has nothing to do with the area affected. So making references of the Spanish, the English and the European countries, and how they treated people under their domain,so does that makes it okay for the US to treat these kids the way they are?…
            Listen you need to understand that this guy “Jesucristo” made references to the US Government and the multinational corporations because the multinational corporations at one point in time were intermingle with the US government, and still probably is. I believe Jesucristo is blaming the US because during the civil war in Guatemala in 1954 the government of that time wanted to expropriate land from the United Fruit Company, they were going to pay the corporation what the land prices were at that time; however one of the owners of the united fruit company was the head of the CIA John Foster Dulles, and what do you think he did? he created a 34 year civil war in Guatemala that devastated a country, its economy and its infrastructure… most people had to flee out of the country to survive a US sponsored war, sponsored by providing money, weapons and intelligence to the army, so the army could defeat the so call “Communists”. Okay so what happened with this people that left, some of them ended up in Miami, Texas and LA… in LA they were pushed around by the Mexicans, and the blacks, the only way to survive is to do what the Mexicans and the blacks were already doing, that is to form a “Gang”. Once the U.S government took notary of this they deported thousands of kids that grew up in the states under the concepts of Gangs and they got deported to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras… of course what did they do there?… that is correct, started creating gangs. So my friend Will, for you to say that US government had nothing to do with this is very ignorant of you, and furthermore for you to say and I quote “lack of education, morals, and values” is very condescending of you. As a matter of fact you may be a USAID employee which in many times were really undercover CIA operatives. Also let it be known that the CIA used Guatemala as their training grounds and continued on creating havoc in El Salvador and they also attempted it in Cuba. But don’t believe me… here are some links that could help you refresh your mind, my dear friend Will.



          • Will

            1. I made reference to England, Spain and Europe based on the comment made by “Jesucristo”. Please read all comments prior to responding that way you will be informed about what you are talking about.

            2. I did not say that the US was not to blame at all. I said they share in the blame but minimally. Again, please read before repsonding.

            3. The basis of your arguement is using 1954 Guatemala (60 years ago). If that is your foundation then please explain why we do not have thousands of Chilean children at our borders. From 1973-1990 Chile was run by a military dictatorship that was installed with our help. But Chile and her people instead of sitting back and blaming others decided to do something about it and now Chile is an example of government and society for all of Latin America. But we live in a world were instead of fixing a problem we blame others and do nothing. Woe is Me attitude is a culprit as well as the those in power who continue to steal from their own.
            4. My comment “lacking education, morals, and values” isnt just a personal opinion but is the most common response when talking to the people in these countries. They do not blame the US for their problems, they blame their own for keeping them down instead of helping. As I said previously, I LIVE IT. I see it everyday and have for 7 years in different countries. Condescending is to say I LIVE IT and you watch it on You Tube.
            5. Children have always been at our border in horrible conditions and will always be. We offer a safer life with more opportunites for work, education and healthcare. This isnt the first time that this has happened. It is just convienent that politicians are using these children and their situation as propaganda for their own benefits.
            6. My opinión is that instead of giving money and assistance to these countries, I would rather invest within our own borders. Fight the Drug war from the Market side not the production, improve healthcare and education within the US. We cannot make everyone happy all of the time. There will always be a faction that disagrees with our actions while other may applaud.
            7. Thank you for your videos but I would not use You Tube as a reference ever. As I had said earlier in a previous comment you can find anything to back your opinión or point of view on the internet or in studies. I prefer to use the information I collect from LIVING IT and asking the people of these countries. Although some of the video may come from reputable sources, I can also find videos that will support my opinions as well and some that will tell me that aliens are to blame or the middle east crisis.
            Finally, this is only my opinión and as my grandfather told me “opinions are like assholes, everyone has one”. I apologize for the language as it may have been in poor taste.

          • evilparrot

            Brilliant response. Thanks for your time to share all of this and try to help educate those who might be looking at the matter more emotionally than matter-of-factly.

          • tecun

            Evilparrot, let me tell you that I have not been educated by any of what Will pointed out to me.. Also I am not looking at this from an emotional standpoint cause if that was the case I would say that the American Authorities are being inhuman with those kids… I’m basically taking a historical stand, and very much matter-of-fact.

          • tecun

            Alright Will let’s continue on….

            So and just to prove to you that I’m not closed minded
            wanting to win all my arguments I give you point 1, and point 2, now let’s move
            to point 3.

            3. that is correct 60 years ago, but you have to remember
            that the war was not over until 1996, which means that there was a lot of people misplaced, it wasn’t until 1996 that you could say there was some sort of peace treaty that ceased fire. So the war
            the U.S started did not ceased until 1996, meaning that the country has been at war for about 36 years… during those 36 years the priority is not the population, is not the economy, and is not the infrastructure. So let’s revise your argument 60 years… incorrect, the war lasted until 1996 therefore more like 18 years since the cease of fire. Also you cannot compare Chile to Guatemala, is like comparing tomatoes and apples, if you know your history well you should already know that Chileans is prominently of Latino decent, which means the majority is the same race, their disagreements were primarily political.
            Now you have Guatemala a country with over 22 different languages, primarily composed of Mayan natives and Latino decent. Therefore is not as easy as Chile, is like
            saying comparing the U.S with Britain… yes they speak the same language however just because they share a common background it does not mean that whatever work in one country will work on the other one.
            Also with or without Pinochet, Chile has always have a majority of
            people with higher level of education, which of course leads to success, actually before Pinochet arrived the universities were subsidized by the government; once Pinochet took power the numbers drastically changed and dropped… and let’s not even bring Pinochet into this array because I personally know people that were tortured by his death squads and I have seen the scars…
            let’s stay focus on what we’re talking about here. Going back to Guatemala and why that example fails, that is basically it, how do you supposed to have a country already divided by language, culture and on top of it all war to come together and be
            at the same standard of Chile, that’s not even a realm in which you can even compared them two.

            4. Oh my friend, tell me how do governments control populations?
            How Qaddafi did controlled his people? how does the common American gets controlled? Media, Propaganda, the CIA are masterminds of those techniques, so of course they’re going to say that, you think having a military government is really going to emphasized on what really happened in the 50’s? of course not,
            they keep people in the dark so they cannot make proper judgement of reason… is like if your only source of news is fox news, well then you will probably think that Obama is a Muslim, that the apocalypse is near, and that all gays and lesbians will go to hell… if you’re from that school of thought, I rest my case
            and I will not continue this dialogue as I will never break into that closed minded head of yours; but I tend to think and I hope you’re not of that sect. Anyway let’s get back on track
            here, the common citizen will not be focusing on what happened, first because everything that did happen, none of it was ever discussed, or talked about in the media, newspaper or radio. Second, after the war the country was in shambles, do you really think that people even want to think about what they endure for 36 long years? If they don’t blame the CIA, or U.S Government is probably because you’re asking them, and they don’t
            want to insult you, (yes I’m making an assumption that you probably look American) or they simply don’t know, because it has never been discussed, and most likely because at this point in the game all they want to do is work, eat, and breath.

            5. I don’t think I mentioned anything about “Children at the
            border in horrible conditions” however I do agree with you on this point… The American government is trying to make an example out of these kids, and so the presidents of the Central American nations are also taking advantage of the situation to push for some sort of reform.

            6. The problem with this point is that you could also say
            the same about the most recent wars in the Middle East, all of those billions of dollars spent could have made a huge significance in the U.S in terms of Education, and Health Care. But let’s face it the
            U.S is in the business of war, and just because there are significant problems in your own back yard it does not mean that if the government lifted whatever minuscule aid provided to the Central American nations it would be allocated within its own borders. I think that the aid should be properly distributed creating job markets, or infrastructure. That is a given, the fact that not everyone
            will always agree with everything you do, however you tend to forget that the U.S government backyard is those actual countries… let’s think about this for a minute, if the U.S did not contribute or aided those countries do you think there would be any alliance to the Americans? Absolutely not, at least from the government level, what that would create is animosity against the U.S, and there are many other power houses hungry to get into the U.S backyard, let’s
            take for example China, Russia, and even Iran, are an eminent threat to the U.S. Now would the U.S Government be
            willing to risk all of that for some pocket change… Let’s put it this way have you heard of the LEMV “Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle… well in a few words the government spent 517 million on an amphibious vehicle that never worked, so that’s 517 million dollars they could have used towards education, health care, community outreach, but they much rather spent it on a
            vehicle that failed time and time again to the point that the department of defense had to shut it down. So in a few
            words money is really not the question in here, the question in here is what internal interests they may be to distribute the funds the way they are.

            7. Funny that you say that, I remember people saying that
            about random websites, then Wikipedia, and now apparently is you tube. I wouldn’t give you tube so much credit as to
            “you can find anything to back your opinion” in any case, that is not backing my opinion at all, those videos simply account the HISTORY that took place, now if you want to pull a “Nazi” and denied the holocaust you can also do that, however I know the history quite well and I know when I see cnn and I see bbc. People should be competent in deciphering what is real and what is not, now if you don’t want to open your eyes because you’re afraid you might learn the truth, that my man is your own prerogative.

            In any case, I quite enjoy chatting with you because even
            thou we don’t agree on pretty much anything I feel that we chatted quite well.

        • shayna

          I just wanted to write and say thank you for your words. The US needs more people like you. I agree with everything you wrote.

          • Ana

            More conservatives rooted in bigotry and their own lack of compassion? No thank you.

  • Esihcoc Rhone

    are the parents of these children NOT thought of as criminals against
    humanity? There are just having kids and leaving them, then blame
    another country, which they are trying to exploit, for the care-taking
    of them. I’m not mad at the kids, but the parents are just smuggling
    pieces of trash. There is NO government to blame for
    that either. Its truly the parents fault to whatever happens to them.
    We are humans, meaning we need parents there. No turtles that bury kids
    in the sand and say “oh well”.

    • tecun

      This is why American always come across as assh*les because of people like you… seriously get informed cnn, foxnews are not very reliable methods of neutral information. Tell me something, if you had a kid with high probabilities of dying in the streets by the hands of Gangs or just random regular violence… as a matter of fact if you knew that your kid would die if he stayed… what would you do? however if he leaves the country and makes into the US there are high probabilities of dying as well, but there are higher probabilities for those kids to make it, and even if they don’t successfully live well at least, at the very least they will be alive.
      I agree right now the U.S and the local government are not to blame on this… however they are to blame on a historical level because there has been so much damage caused by the U.S government that people from these countries will be feeling it for decades to come.

      I know that for a lot of people is hard to understand this concept, so I will put it on terms they may be more familiar with… lets take for example Detroit…at one point in time a city with a bustling economy and thriving infrastructure and a desirable place to live; now is an abandoned city, with not much else then a struggling economy and riddled with violence, and poverty. When the big three auto companies started leaving the government should have stepped in and created a protectionist act for the companies to remain there. In any case that’s a topic for another day, but lets continue on, so say that your kid is being harassed by the local gangs and they told him that if he didn’t joined up, that him and his family would perish. Wouldn’t you much rather send him to a different state, even if that meant letting him go on his own?

      • Esihcoc Rhone

        I’m an international school teacher at that is well traveled. The US/Lantin America relationship is like this. We(the US) have caused damage in some aspects of Latin America, however, we also donate millions of dollars via USAID every year. Unless you want us to just buy the countries and take over, Latin leaders are going to have to do something about the cartels that run more things than just drugs. Last I check, more than Americans take drugs.

        How about stop having kids that you cannot afford? Just because the US has money, which in real terms is shrinking, doesn’t mean we OWE anyone anything. As far as your Detroit analogy is concern, times and technology and tax laws change. No economy can promise that all things will remain the same level of abundance that they had in the past. If so, innovation would slow down because all the resources would be stuck in maintaining the status que. Stop living in you fantasy land and have some, just some of these parents with kids(most over the age of 16, just young enough to be a child, just old enough to work for the cartel) hold some level of responsibility!

        And being considered an assh*le doesn’t mean I’m wrong, it just means your feelings are hurt.