Sonia Nazario on children crossing the US border: ‘It’s a modern day odyssey’

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The Mexican border at Sasabe Arizona Photo: Phillip Capper via Flickr/ CC

When author Sonia Nazario wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book  “Enrique’s Journey” in 2006, nobody was paying much attention to the number of children coming across the US border. Now, as the New York Times reports, “more than 52,000 children have been caught crossing the United States border alone since October — double last year’s number.”

Back in March, Warren spoke with Nazario about the book, which resonates strongly today. Here’s an edited excerpt from KCRW’s “To the Point.”

When when I was writing about Enrique’s journey I traveled with a twelve year old boy who was coming to the United States. Children as young as seven were coming alone, gripping onto the tops of these freight trains. Many of these kids have no money to make this journey so they do it the only way they can– gripping on for dear life to travel up the length of the country. It’s an incredibly dangerous journey and the numbers of these kids fleeing violence in Central America,  not only coming to reunify with the parent but fleeing for their lives has gone up hugely in recent years.

Enrique was actually just 16 when he set off on his own come find her and all he had was this slip of paper with his mom’s phone number on it. But I think through word of mouth they know this is the way to go if you don’t have any money. They go with others who have been deported and made the journey.

They call the train El Tren de la Muerte which means the train of death because they face bandits along side the rails. The Zetas, who are gangsters that control the tops of the trains, are the worst and most violent narco trafficking cartel in Mexico. They’re kidnapping 18,000 Central Americans every year making their way north through Mexico and they prefer children. The children carry the number often of a relative in the United States and they can extort those relatives for money. It’s a modern day odyssey that these children are going on trying to reach the United States.

Listen to the full show from March 11, 2014.