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#1437 – How This Happened

This week Latino USA takes a look at the child refugee crisis story that took the media by storm early this summer and asks: How did this happen? We break down some central American history. An ex-gang member from El Salvador tell us his story. Luis Argueta, Guatemalan filmmaker, shares testimonials revealing the reality in Guatemala. We learn about coyotes, those responsible for smuggling the children. And we examine how the media has shaped this story.

Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

A Brief History of the U.S. in Central America

We start with a story from Moises, a young teenager in New York state who made the long journey from Honduras to the U.S. border by himself when he was just 8 years old. He’s just one example of the number of children migrating from Central America in what’s being called the “child migrant crisis.”

But child migration is nothing new, nor is mass migration from Central America. Civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala and a revolution in Nicaragua in the 1980s spurred a large refugee migration from Central America. We follow up with César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, immigration law professor at the University of Denver, about the United States’ involvement in those wars and how the drug war fueled a cycle of deportation.

Finally, we talk to Elizabeth Kennedy, a Fulbright scholar on the ground in El Salvador who is researching the reasons why kids are fleeing El Salvador to make their way north to the U.S. Her findings show that, while the majority of kids have family in this country (over half have a parent here), gang violence is the most common reason for migration–asking the question: Where is this crisis exactly, and what is does it really look like?




Central American Gangs, Made in L.A.

Interviews with children planning to migrate alone from El Salvador to the U.S. have found that the number one reason young people are fleeing the country is fear of gang violence. Over the last two decades, warring between the Mara Salvatrucha street gang—better known as MS-13—and the 18th Street gang has risen to out-of-control levels of violence not just in El Salvador, but in Honduras and Guatemala as well.

Yet the roots of Central America’s gang problem lie far away, in Los Angeles, where both MS-13 and 18th Street were born. The gangs were formed by young, alienated immigrants who struggled to adapt to hostile neighborhoods in L.A. In the ‘90s, the LAPD worked with immigration authorities to deport undocumented gang members, eventually deporting tens of thousands of criminals to Central America.

Once the gangs were installed in Central America, repressive policing policies known as the “Mano Dura” unintentionally worsened the problem. Mass incarceration of young kids from street cliques alongside hardened criminals turned prison into a finishing school for gang  members.

In this segment, we explore the history of the Central American gang problem through a man who lived it firsthand. Alex Sanchez is a former MS-13 member who leads the Los Angeles office of Homies Unidos, a non-profit that helps gang members integrate into

Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images

What Happens to the Children Who are Deported? The Reality in Guatemala

We saw the pictures of the children detained at the border. But what happens to the children who don’t make it that far? What about those who get deported? Some children even get deported from Mexico. Luis Argueta, an academy award nominated Guatemalan filmmaker, was in Guatemala when the child refugee crisis story broke out.

He spoke with children who were deported and their families about why the dangerous trek up north can be worth it and what it can cost them. He shares their stories and testimonials with us.


luis Luis Argueta is a film director and producer whose work spans features, documentaries, shorts and episodic TV.  He has also worked as commercial director, lecturer and teacher in the United States, Europe and throughout the Americas.  Born and raised in Guatemala, Argueta is a U.S. Citizen and has been a resident of New York since 1977. His film The Silence of Neto is the only Guatemalan film ever to have been submitted to the Academy Awards competition and he is the only Guatemalan director to have received a CLIO. In April 2009, the British newspaper The Guardian, listed Mr. Argueta as one of Guatemala’s National Living Icons, alongside Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu and Singer/Songwriter Ricardo Arjona. In 2010, he released the first film in his Immigration Trilogy, abUSed: The Postville Raid ( a film about the devastating effects of US immigration enforcement policies on children, families and communities. The film premiered on the PBS World program America Reframed on December 2012, won “Best Documentary Audience Award” at Cinemaissi Film Festival in Finland and has been presented at nearly 200 venues – including immigration and workers conferences, faith based communities, universities and colleges and 13 international film festivals.  ABRAZOS (, completed in June 2014, the second film in his Immigration Trilogy, narrates the transformational journey of a group of U.S. citizen children who travel from Minnesota to Guatemala to meet their grandparents for the first time.






Coyotes: Ten Things To Remember About Smugglers

The thousands of Central American and Mexican children that have come to the US border in the past few years are not getting here on their own. Here are the ten things you need to know about so-called ‘coyotes’, the groups of human smugglers that cross migrants in the U.S. border.

1. According to ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – human smugglers are not the same as human traffickers. Human smuggling involves the voluntary intention to get yourself smuggled across international borders, and a smuggler or coyote, is your facilitator. Human trafficking, on the other hand, is the transportation of people with the purpose of selling them or exploiting them in forced prostitution and other forms of labor. In trafficking, people are usually held against their consent.

2.  Smuggling is still a crime, and it’s investigated by ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security. Customs and Border Protection, another Homeland Security Agency, is in charge of enforcement.

3. Smugglers from Central America to the U.S. work as loosely knit groups of people who operate independently in each of the countries along the route. There is no hierarchical structure between them. Each group is in charge of keeping safe-houses, securing lodging and coordinating transportation for migrants in each of the countries. The money charged to migrants is split between the different groups along the route.

4. Human smugglers are not drug cartels or part of the drug cartels. Up to date, there have been no official reports of drug cartels in Mexico or Central America coordinating or taking over the logistics of human smuggling. Mexican cartels, however, do control the territories and the routes along the Mexican portion of the journey. The Zetas Cartel and the Gulf Cartel, for example, control the northeastern region of Mexico that borders Texas. They charge fees to the smugglers and the migrants for usage of the routes. Cartels are known to kidnap and kill smugglers and migrants who fail to pay fees.

5. According to ICE, the current price migrants pay to get themselves smuggled from Central America ranges between $5000 and $12,000.  Some reports say the price of smuggling has risen in recent years as U.S. border security has been ramped up and the cartels have carved up routes and standardized fees for smugglers. The more migrants pay, the more they guarantee safe passage by paying off cartels, paying bribes to Mexican law enforcement, and the coverage of travel costs all along the route.

6. Migrants have traditionally seen smugglers as reliable service providers with strong links to the communities where they come from in Central America. Coyotes are well known in Central American townships, and the smuggling business has traditionally been built on trust. Knowing the right coyote is key to securing a safe journey.

7. There have been several reports of human smugglers selling migrants off to the cartels for kidnapping, trafficking, and recruitment.  There have also been reports of smugglers abandoning migrants at some point in the journey after charging the fees. Gabriella Sanchez, an anthropologist who studies human smuggling, says these risks are higher when migrants use smugglers they don’t know and that are not connected to their communities. Also, the lower the smuggling fee, the higher the risk of being sold off or targeted.

8. After the child migrant crisis broke out earlier this summer, some reports say that smugglers spread rumors about a possible immigration amnesty. What is clear is that smugglers seem to know that Central American children who make it to the border are not immediately deported back, thanks to a 2008 anti-trafficking law and to the backlog of cases in immigration court.

9. According to a 2012 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, a majority of migrants report using the services of a smuggler. In the case of children migrants, Elizabeth Kennedy, a Fulbright scholar and researcher on child migration in El Salvador, estimates that more than half the children are smuggled using coyotes.

10. U.S. authorities began cracking down on smugglers in response to the surge in unaccompanied minors. ICE launched ‘Operation Coyote’ in June, capturing 363 smugglers and seizing over $800,000 in smuggling profits. U.S. law enforcement agencies have cooperated with Central American authorities, making high profile busts. The US is also finding public awareness campaigns to prevent families from sending their children on the journey to the U.S. border.

In this segment, we hear the story of Claudia, a teenager from Honduras who made the journey to the U.S. this year. She used the services of smugglers, and came face to face with many of the risks in the journey.

Photo of alleged smuggler transporting a Central American family to along the border near Mission, Texas in July 2014, by John Moore/Getty Images

The Frenzy Surrounding the Crisis

If child migrants and Central Americans have been coming to the United States for decades – why was this particular wave deemed a crisis? We look at why this story took the nation’s media by storm and how politicians manipulated the media to put the spotlight on themselves. Aviva Chomsky, professor of history at Salem State University in Massachusetts, guides us through what happened in her state and how partisan politics played up certain aspects of the story that may have taken away from the actual crisis at hand.

Point of Clarification: Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts proposed housing the children in U.S. Health and Human Service run shelters at two specific sites in Massachusetts while they are being processed.

Sabiduría : Maria Knows this is Nothing New

We end every show with sabiduría or words of wisdom. This week we do things a little bit differently. Maria Hinojosa weighs in on the child refugee crisis by reflecting on her 30 years of experience covering central America. She even wrote her college undergraduate thesis about Central American immigrants in Long Island.

Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

This Week’s Captions: How This Happened

This week Latino USA takes a look at the child refugee crisis story that took the media by storm early this summer and asks: How did this happen? We break down some central American history. An ex-gang member from El Salvador tell us his story. Luis Argueta, Guatemalan filmmaker, shares testimonials revealing the reality in Guatemala. We learn about coyotes, those responsible for smuggling the children. And we examine how the media has shaped this story.

Latino USA, the foremost Latino voice in public media and the longest running Latino-focused program on radio, is the first radio program to commence equal-access distribution via Captioning for Radio. “Research has shown that Latino children have a higher incidence of hearing loss and deafness than other populations,” according to Latino USA’s Anchor & Executive Producer Maria Hinojosa. “When the opportunity to break this sound barrier came to our attention, we were pleased to embrace this new technology developed by NPR Labs and Towson University for the thousands of Latinos with serious hearing loss.”
The International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (ICART), a strategic alliance between NPR and Towson University, is co-directed by Mike Starling of NPR and Ellyn Sheffield of Towson University.
For each week’s captioning, check back on


This Week’s Music: How This Happened

-Sol Rojo by Los Mesoneros

-La Ultima Vez by Diana Fuentes

-Divinorum (Quantic Remix) by Ocote Soul Sounds

-El Salvador Ta Venciendo by Yolocamba Ita

-Paris Vila Matilde by Curumin

-Volar Volar by Cartel de Santa

-Pa’l Norte feat. Beauty Brain (Beauty Brain Remix) by Calle 13

-Nada Importante by Julieta Venegas

-Gracis by Grupo Kazzabe

-Tecolote by Quetzal

-Vuelve by Julieta Venegas

-Mujer, Niña, Y Amiga by Gian-Carla Tisera

#1436 – ¡Showtime!

This week we find out what it means to be in the onstage and on the spot. We meet an opera singer who loves telenovelas, a comedian who inspires young Latinos. We hear the drum beats of Puerto Rican Bomba music, learn about a new reality show starring undocumented kids. We put pressure on the new president and CEO of NPR. We shine a spotlight on Tejanos, and a tech journalist tells us what it means to “fail fast.” And Maria Hinojosa interviews the legendary Sheila E and we find out what makes her so cool.

Photo by Chris Smith via Flickr. 


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