Saturday, August 9, 2014

The migration "surge" from the Guatemalan side

The crisis of the unaccompanied minors arriving on the U.S. border has been a hot subject in Guatemala as well as the U.S., and as someone who works with migrants, and has written several expert witness affidavits for migrants seeking asylum or withholding of removal, including a few who were unaccompanied minors, it has been interesting to discuss this with friends here, and also just to pick up on what some of the discourse has been, both official and popular. Last week a Guatemalan official made the overland journey that migrants take, to see for himself what the experience was.  The Guatemalan president has been railing about parents and how they are responsible for this. So, in his view, he government bears no responsibility for this, and he completely ignores systemic ills like poverty, lack of economic opportunity, lack of employment, violence, the culture of impunity, and the failure of his government to address these in any constructive way.

It was very interesting to accidentally come across a radio program yesterday morning as I set out from Quiché on the long drive to Santa Eulalia in the northern part of Huehuetanango, in which an Evangelical preacher spoke in a very moving and forceful way about migration, likening migrants to the Holy Family, whom he characterized as migrants. His discourse went on for about 20 minutes at least -- it might have gone on for longer but I lost the signal as I headed north from Santa Cruz del Quiché, and I don't know how long before I tuned in he had started. But he gave a very thoughtful and compassionate exegesis, arguing that young people migrated because they had no options, because there were no economic opportunities or jobs.  Migration made sense if the alternative was to die in Guatemala because there was no work, no money to buy food. And then he spent much of the time talking about Joseph and Mary, how they had had to migrate to Bethelem in order to find a place for Mary to give birth and then they had had to migrate again in order to save the life of the child. They had gone to Galilee, to Nazareth, which is why Jesus is called Jesus of Nazareth, although he was born in Bethlehem -- I am just recounting his reasoning, as best as I can recall without listening to the tape recording I made, somewhat intermittently. Unfortunately I came across this broadcast as I was preparing for the journey to Huehuetenango, and I had to stop and get cash from an ATM, and then get gasoline, check the tires, water, brake fluid, oil, and then another stop to get coffee for the drive. So I unfortunately had to dip in and out of the program, and then as I headed north out of Santa Cruz del Quiché, I lost the signal of this particular station after about 10 minutes. But it was extremely interesting. The pastor had lived outside of Guatemala for over 20 years, he said, but legally. However, he expressed a lot of compassion for the migrants who travelled without papers. It may have been a live broadcast, or a broadcast of a live sermon, because at least once he asked the audience for a response. He argued that migration could, in fact, be a bendición, a blessing. As in the case of Joseph and Mary, whose migration saved the life of the child. He asked the audience, "When Joseph and Mary migrated, was that a bad thing or was it a blessing?" They responded, as good parishioners should, "Blessing".

This, of course, only reflects one pastor on one radio station. But perhaps reflective of a more widespread popular sentiment in Guatemala. People lament the necessity of migration, and some worry about the future of the country, but almost no one blames the migrants or their families.

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