The CLACS’ grant is supporting my field research in Guatemala on the network of organizations that exist to support children who have been deported from the United States or Mexico. I am staying in Quetzaltenango or as most people here call it, Xela, located in the Western Highlands of the country. Most children who migrate north are from this region due to rampant poverty and lack of opportunities.
My goal through this research is to figure out what the current system of organizations is that supports returned children, what the system should look like and how U.S. organizations can effectively support this development. Both public and nonprofit organizations exist to help with the reintegration of the children into society, however, there is a significant gap in the resources available and those in need.
In the Western Highlands, the primary nonprofit organization supporting returned children, Colectivo Vida Digna, has been a wealth of information and support for my understanding of the struggles youth face when they return. By partnering with KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), located in Washington D.C., plans are made for the child’s reintegration before he/she ever leaves the U.S. Efforts are made by Colectivo Vida Digna to not only help the returned children, but also their siblings to prevent them from making the dangerous journey north. However, because of limited resources and personnel, only a very small percentage of the children returning actually are able to receive this support.
I recently made the trip to Guatemala City for the chance to interview the government’s advisory group on immigration, CONAMIGUA. Our conversation addressed their network of offices to help returned youth find work and reintegrate back into their communities. However, there are questions of their effectiveness since most of the offices are not located in areas of high immigration.
Through observation, conversations, and reading, I have discovered the struggles returned children and their families face trying to survive. Most of those who are migrating are part of the country’s indigenous population bringing to the forefront the reality of the discrimination that exists in this country. The effects of the thirty six year civil war between the indigenous populations and the military are still evident. Indigenous groups are working to empower their people to take a stand and fight for their rights to better their living conditions and their access to basic services such as fresh water and electricity. However, because of the lack of infrastructure and schools, many indigenous groups still remain powerless against the government, which often uses their lack of education to manipulate them for its personal benefit.
The exodus of youth from the Western Highlands is going to continue until the indigenous communities can receive basic services and education necessary to live. Through my research, I hope to provide Guatemalan organizations information for what currently exists and a tool for those in the US to support Guatemalan groups working to empower and protect their youth.
Taylor Martin is currently pursuing a Master of Public Affairs degree in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU.