Guatemala: Inside the Border Crisis - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Guatemala: Inside the Border Crisis

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    Friday, August 29 2014 1:33 AM EDT2014-08-29 05:33:20 GMT
    Follow the events of J.D. Wallace's trip to Guatemala as they unfolded.  See the country as he gathered the stories he reported.

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    Follow the events of J.D. Wallace's trip to Guatemala as they unfolded.  See the country as he gathered the stories he reported.


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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The border just an hour to our south marks the last barrier to a 1,500 mile trek north for those seeking a better life.

Those who help migrants in Guatemala say the repatriation flights from the United States have increased from three times a week in 2012 to three times a day now. When it comes to the thousands who leave each year, they say this country can't solve the problem alone.

Just about everywhere you look in Guatemala, you can see history that dates back centuries to when the Spanish arrived there. And there's another tradition for many in Central America that isn't hard to find.

"I'm going to America right now,” said a 26-year-old man who agreed to speak if his identity was concealed, out of his concern people at his home might recognize him.

He's on his fifth journey from Honduras to the United States.

"Guatemala is easy to cross. You can take a bus. Mexico is the same. If you have money, you can get to the border of America,” he said.

That was why he was at Casa Migrante in Guatemala City. He's saving money until he can continue. His first trip to the United States was with his mother when he was about seven. But he said that he was deported back to Honduras years later after a traffic stop in Atlanta, where he says his family lives now as citizens. His last attempt to return was two years ago. He was caught in Arizona.

"When I got to Nogales Arizona, I jumped the fence and I just run, run and run and run until I get my ride,” he said.

Casa Migrante director Juan Luis Carbajal Tejeda helps thousands of migrants passing through and returning to Guatemala each year. He calls it a humanitarian crisis, and said that the United States must make legal immigration easier. He pointed out that many U.S. citizens have immigrant backgrounds as well.

He admitted that Guatemala must also find solutions at home, such as better education in rural areas.

But breaking the vicious cycle of immigration followed by deportation is not easy with violence in Central America and families trying to reunite.

"This is a big problem because Guatemala is a little country with a lot of problems,” said Alejandra Gordillo, executive secretary for CONAMIGUA, Guatemala's commission for migrants.

It finds them education, work, and support services, whether they move from rural areas to the city, from other countries to Guatemala, or if they're deported back to Guatemala from the United States.

Gordillo had just returned from Tijuana to help some fellow Guatemalans stuck there, which actually delayed this interview that had been set up weeks in advance.

She said that those who pay coyotes to guide them to the U.S. border often put their homes up for collateral. Even if they don't get into the United States, the coyote will own their home until they pay off the debt, which can range from four to ten thousand dollars in a country where more than half the people live below the poverty line.

"We try to get them work, but the work pays minimum salary. They make more money in the United States and they don't want to stay here,” Gordillo said.

"When they put me on the plane and send me back to Honduras, I know that I have to get some money to get back again. And to get money in my country, it's real hard,” said the young man making his fifth try to get into the United States.

He was pretty sure that he will face a few years in a U.S. prison if he's caught crossing again. But that wasn't going to stop him.

"There's a lot of work for me. America is a better place to be,” he said.

Right now CONAMIGUA said that the only thing limiting the repatriation flights here is the country can't take more. If that changes, they expect the flights to increase.

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