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The U.S.-Mexico border splits families, but loved ones strive to stay connected

The U.S.-Mexico border splits families, but loved ones strive to stay connected

By Anoushka Valodya


EL PASO – With a Border Patrol helicopter hovering close above him, Honduran native Pedro Guzman, who was in his mid-thirties, had to choose between running away or surrendering. After seeing his fellow emigrants detained, Guzman decided to give up, but he still didn’t lose hope. He had spent three days and two nights, without food and water, crossing from Matamoros, Mexico to reach Brownsville, Texas in 1999.

“I was just eating air, but I was always positive, telling myself that I was going to make it,” Guzman said. He paid $4,000 to a coyote, but was later abandoned by the smuggler to find his way to the U.S. along with a couple dozen men.

Children are the main victims of family separation. (Anoushka Valodya/Borderzine.com)
Sleeping in the day and crossing at night – not only on treacherous land but also swimming through the Rio Grande –, Guzman said that he and his fellow migrants tried to be as invisible as possible while avoiding venomous creatures, such as snakes, one of which he saw crawling over one of his sleeping friends.

After being detained for days in jail, Guzman was granted admittance into the U.S. because he had received temporary protected status for having been a Hurricane Mitch victim in 1998.

As the U.S. government discusses the hot topic of immigration legislation, millions of undocumented people in the U.S. continue to live in the shadows. As if fearing Border Patrol and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents aren’t enough, undocumented people who are residing in America illegally have other big worries to contend with.

And the same can be said for their families that stay behind in their home country, waiting for their loved ones to return from the U.S.

Fearing infidelity, breaking and starting new families, contracting and spreading HIV, losing children in deportations, becoming a failure and drinking oneself to death – all of these risks have become a reality for undocumented people in the U.S. who are separated from their spouse and children.

10 to 20 percent of families separated because of undocumented immigration would break up definitively for several reasons according to Prof. Ernesto Castañeda. (Anoushka Valodya/Borderzine.com)
The typical Mexican immigrant who enters the United States illegally is a young to middle-aged man who spends seven to 12 years separated from his family. However, the number of cases of illegal immigration into the U.S. has decreased in the past years. According to Ernesto Castañeda, assistant professor of sociology at UTEP, 10 to 20 percent of these kinds of divided families will break up for various reasons.

“Sometimes there’s a stigma that immigrants have HIV,” Castañeda said. “The cases are very low still, but in Mexican towns, in the middle of the mountains, 20 years ago, there was no one with AIDS. Now, maybe one or two of the hundreds of migrants are going to have AIDS because of risky behaviors in the U.S. So these immigrants go back home and infect their wives who want to get pregnant.”

Castañeda elaborated on immigrants who have sex with each other, saying that they’re not necessarily homosexuals…

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