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MSU Professor Gives Context to Central American Refugee Crisis

Thursday, NPR's Steve Inskeep spoke with Sonia Nazario, the author of "Enrique's Journey," a book about a child from Honduras who reached the United States, and she says many of the thousands of Central American children crossing the U.S. - Mexico border are actually refugees, not migrants who mostly need to be sent home. Murray State College of Humanities and Fine Arts History Professor Dr. Bill Schell's areas of research involve Latin America and Mexico and Kate Lochte asks him about the background for the current spike in numbers of children trying to enter the U.S.

Why are children seeking refuge now?

Dr. Schell says the push is driven by the collapse of government and law in Central America, particularly three nations: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Gangs that have taken control in the wake of this collapse have learned how to profit by "shaking down" families in these countries who have wealthier relatives in the United States, who are desperate to send their children to a safer country with the hope for a better quality of life. Desperate families, Schell says, will pay anything to "people smugglers" who know how to bribe or sneak through the U.S. border checkpoints.

HBO Documentary "Which Way Home"

Understanding the background

Cold War policies by the United States fueled civil wars in Central America, which displaced thousands, Schell says, which caused the government collapse. A wave of illegal migrants then came to the United States and create social networks, some of which were gang related. U.S. Officials eventually deported many, but not all, of those connected to gang-related activity and sent them back to their home countries, though they had already laid roots in the United States and thus trans-national gangs formed.

"The U.S. created the problem by intervening in Central America, trying to depose legitimately elected governments, interfering with elected governments' attempts to reform their own situation and prevent the very conditions that now exist. That's driving immigrants to the United States."

How do we resolve this crisis?

There is growing backlash in the United States, protesting child immigrants when there are American children living in undesirable locations. The question of where do kids from dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago and Los Angeles go for safety if kids from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala can come to the U.S. for safety? Schell acknowledges that poverty and poor education are problems in the United States as well and that a solution to those issues are through tax reforms and transforming the way information is exchanged. Schell suggests finding a way to legalize people who come to this country and to make sure they become a contributing part of the American economy and community as a way to resolve this issue, that sending them back is a way to ensure that this problem will be a cycle that continues unresolved.

Dr. Bill Schell is Professor of History in Murray State's College of Humanities and Fine Arts. His areas of research concern Latin America, particularly Mexico. 

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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