Samuel Loewenberg of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is currently in Guatemala producing a couple Worldfocus signature stories. He writes about the experience of Guatemalan migrants to the U.S.
People seem to cry a lot in Guatemala.
This applies to men as well as women, the country’s reputation for machismo notwithstanding. The crying seems to come especially when they are recounting their experiences as migrants to the U.S. It has been something of a surprise to be honest.
Over the years I’ve interviewed family members of murder victims, survivors of terrorist bombings, victims of medical malpractice, and I’ve not quite encountered something like this before. It is not that the trauma is greater (how can you quantify trauma?), but it does seem somehow closer to the surface. More than anything, I think what brings them to tears is a sense of grand injustice.
After all, they came to the U.S. to work, to provide for their families by doing jobs that Americans did not want to do, and they ended up being treated as criminals. The minimum wage in Guatemala is about $200 a month, well under the $250 a month considered necessary to feed a family, according to economist Jorge Santos, who says that U.S. economic policies, from the neo-liberal economic regimes known as the “Washington consensus” to the more recent Central American Free Trade Agreement have only increased the pressure on Guatemala’s poor, who make up the vast majority of the country.
Indeed, the level of Guatemala’s income inequality is stunning, with only a handful of families controlling the vast majority of the country’s wealth in what is almost a feudal system. The level of education for the general populace is among the lowest in Latin America, and malnutrition strikes about half of the country’s children — making it one of the worst such situations in the world.
In a small community center of the village of San Miguel Duenas outside of the Guatemalan tourist town of Antigua, dozens of men and women who had been deported after a raid on the kosher meat factory in Iowa, gathered to recount their treatment at the hands of U.S. immigration officials.
They described being held for as long as five months. They said they were given negligible access to lawyers and were unable to communicate with their families. Some said they were stripped naked. According to the Washington-based Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA, one woman was separated from her one-year-old child during her imprisonment. When she was released, she found her baby had been adopted by an American couple.
Workers told me they were hit by ICE officials, and when describing the abuse, which was not only physical but psychological, a rather tough looking guy with a mustache and gold chain broke down in front of me. “I came back with more scars than benefits,” he said.
– Samuel Loewenberg
Watch for Worldfocus’ stories from Guatemala in the coming weeks.