The Kids Who Leave, And Those Who Stay Behind / by Bear Guerra

Now that the images of children sleeping on the floor and in crowded detention facilities have seen the light, suddenly, the U.S. government is grappling with this new “border crisis” and the public is trying to make sense of it all. Why would kids as young as five be traveling alone under such dangerous conditions? I understand the reasons why, as a reporter who got to know Ronald Aldana’s story while living in Los Angeles. Yet I still struggle with the heartbreak of what it all must mean for each of those kids and their families, their neighbors, and their wider communities.

Children and teenagers have been leaving alone from Honduras, or El Salvador, for many years — but the dangers and desperation that motivate that trek have worsened exponentially. Officials may say the number of children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border is going down, as they have now. But the root causes of that migration remain, and they are even more complicated and extensive than we realize.

Last month, the local press in Ecuador told the story of Nohemí Álvarez Quillay, a 12 year-old girl from a poor Andean village who had, like hundreds before her, made the trip to Honduras with the hope of ending up in the U.S. to join her parents. She was sexually abused along the way. When she reached the border crossing, she was stopped and returned to Mexico. Days later, she took her life and was found dead at a migrant shelter for children in Ciudad Juárez.

Her story, like those of countless other Central American kids, is finally prompting a debate here in Ecuador — even as officials have yet to publicly recognize the extent of the problem. It turns out that after Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the majority of kids trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border alone are coming from Ecuador.

This month, we’ll be traveling to central Ecuador, to a place near Nohemí’s village, to talk to the people left behind — and those who are eager to leave. We hope to better understand the impacts of out-migration on rural communities. And we hope our reporting will help humanize this so-called “border crisis” from a place more than 4,000 miles away.