ep. 34 - Sonia Nazario: Social Journalist, Author, & Humanitarian
Sonia Nazario is an award-winning journalist whose stories have tackled some of this country’s most intractable problems -- hunger, drug addiction, immigration -- and have won some of the most prestigious journalism and book awards.
A fluent Spanish speaker of Jewish ancestry whose personal history includes living in Argentina during the so-called dirty war, Nazario spent 20 years reporting and writing about social issues for U.S. newspapers.
She is best known for "Enrique's Journey," her story of a Honduran boy’s struggle to find his mother in the U.S. Published as a series in the Los Angeles Times, "Enrique's Journey" won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2003. It was turned into a book by Random House that became a national bestseller and is now required reading at hundreds of high schools and colleges across the country. A Young Adult version of Enrique's Journey was published in 2013 aimed at middle schoolers and reluctant readers in high school.
ep. 34 - Sonia Nazario: Social Journalist, Author, & Humanitarian
Gail Davis: Ready, set, go. Sonya Nazario is an award winning journalist, whose stories have tackled some of the country's most intractable problems, hunger, drug addiction, immigration, and have won some of the most prestigious journalism and book [00:01:00] awards. She is best known for Enrique's Journey, her story of a Honduran boy's struggle to find his mother in the US. Published as a series in the Los Angeles Times, Enrique's Journey won the Pulitzer prize for feature writing in 2003. It was turned into a book by Random House and became a national best seller. I'm thrilled to have Sonya join us today on GDA Podcast. Welcome, Sonya.
Kyle Davis: Hey.
Sonia Nazario: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here. Thank you.
Kyle Davis: I think, when [00:01:30] we were talking prior to going to record, we were mentioning kind of how we would structure this in the narrative, and because immigration an humanitarian rights are just such a salient issue for the times that it's probably a good way to start is actually to give the backstory. If you could jump into there, and maybe we can talk about your background, and then talk about Enrique's Journey as well.
Sonia Nazario: Sure. Well, I've always been fascinated by the issue of immigration because [00:02:00] I am the child of immigrants. I'm the only one in my immediate family, who aren't in the US, and I have a lot of migration in my veins, in my blood. My father's family fled Christian persecution in Syria in the 1920s, and they fled to Argentina. My mother, her Jewish family, my mother was born in Poland, and they fled before World War II to Argentina. The ones who didn't leave were all killed in Auschwitz. [00:02:30] Then, my parents, seeking opportunity, and also increasing control over universities by the military around 1960, came to the US, and that's where I was born.
I've always been fascinated by the issue of immigration. I've always felt somewhat like I had a foot in both worlds, because I grew up both in Kansas, where my father and mother settled, of all places, in the US, and also Argentina. When my father died suddenly [00:03:00] when I was 13, my mother decided to take us back to live in Argentina. Her timing was terrible. It was just as the Dirty War was launching in Argentina. The military was taking power, and they would disappear about 30,000 people in the coming few years.
I lived in fear most days when I was 14, 15. The military would pick up people off the streets, never to be seen again. I had family [00:03:30] members, a young family member, who was picked up, almost tortured to death, a 16 year old friend, who was murdered. They tortured him to death. They broke all the bones in his face. Really, it was that experience of seeing two journalists murdered on my block, seeing that pool of blood on the sidewalk, and asking my mom, "What happened here?" She told me that these two journalists were trying to tell the truth about what was going on.
That's what really motivated me [00:04:00] to become a journalist, because I had felt that without truth tellers, without journalists, you can't really have a strong democracy without people who are willing to question people in power and hold them accountable. That's why I've been interested in immigration, and that's why I became a journalist, and have told these stories.
Kyle Davis: Could you, and I'm only asking this question because it just seems like a ... Like I said, just it's a salient [00:04:30] issue. You look at the protests, and we're recording this on the tail end of March in 2017, and you look at the protests that were happening in Russia just a couple of days ago, where they're ... You know, there's protests against Putin, and they're rounding up journalists, and rounding up people. Then, even look at what's going on in this country. Can you talk about, just for a moment, the importance of journalism and having people like yourself speak truth to power?
Sonia Nazario: Well, I think, you know, we live in an era of, "Alternative Facts." I [00:05:00] think, both in terms of the narrative that people are hearing, and in terms of the facts that people are hearing, on both sides of the equations politically, I think that you need journalists who are willing to be fair, to wade into an issue, and leave their baggage behind, and try to ascertain as best as they can what's what. I think this is more important than ever now. I don't know about you, but I feel barraged by information every day.
20, 30 years [00:05:30] ago, there was no e-mail. There were no computers. You had to deal with a few phone calls, but now I deal with hundreds of e-mails every single day. I think, for many of us, it's hard to really understand what would work to reduce unlawful migration? How do we truly ... What's the real problem with our educational system, and how do we fix it? I think journalists can not only hold people in power accountable, but they can try to [00:06:00] wade into these very complex issues like immigration, and tell us what's true and what's not true, and what would work and what really does not work despite ... It may work politically, but it doesn't work if the goal is to stem unlawful migration, and keep more migrants back home where, honestly, most of them would rather be, and keep them safe in these countries that they're coming from. I think our role is more important than ever.
Kyle Davis: To that point, I mean, the way that [00:06:30] Enrique's Journey became a book was it coming from a series of articles that you wrote for the Los Angeles Times. I'm curious as to what your thought process is about long form journalism as it is today in the sound bite economy, if you will. I mean, people have limited attentions. More often than not, I see my friends just posting articles on Facebook or Twitter after they just read the headline. They actually haven't read it. Whereas, I actually read it [00:07:00] and go, "You probably shouldn't have posted that. It's not really talking about what you wanted." I am curious as to what your thought process is with that. It's probably a good way to segue into Enrique's Journey, of talking about how to publish it into something that's easy to digest, and making it more manageable, versus some long form expose.
Sonia Nazario: Well, you know, I also despair at people posting when they don't read. I go speak at journalism schools, at colleges across the country, and I ask them to raise, these are [00:07:30] journalism students. I ask them to raise how many read a newspaper, and many raised their hands, but then I asked, "How many of you read beyond the headlines?" And far fewer raised their hands, and they wanted to be journalists. I kind of grabbed my head like, "Oh, God, no."
The truth is that, what we're finding is that people want something in two paragraphs that kind of gives them the information they need, and then they want those long form stories that really take [00:08:00] a deep dive and take them into an issue, and take them on a ride. I feel many of my stories transport you to a different world that you didn't know anything about, that have all the elements in journalism that you look for in great books, that have a narrative arc, that have great characters, that have conflict, that have a question that you have to have answered, and you keep reading to the end.
All those great elements, [00:08:30] and people still want that. You see people buying the New Yorker. You see people reading these long form stories in newspapers. I think we're seeing kind of a demand for the two extremes, and there is still a strong demand. I was just at a conference called The Power of Narrative at Boston University, and there were 6, 800 people in the audience trying to learn to become better story tellers. I think since the beginning of time, when we sat around the fire [00:09:00] and told stories, this is how we have truly communicated in a deep, profound, meaningful way, and that won't change.
Kyle Davis: I think one of the interesting things now that I'm starting to see, you've been seeing it like the last couple of years maybe, with like the New York Times, or the Los Angeles Times, or Washington Post, any of these major publications within journalism, you're just starting to see multimedia, different things kind of going through. They'll post an article online, but then at the same point in time it'll have [00:09:30] an attached short interview that's maybe 10 or 12 minutes long. If you don't want to read, you can just watch the interview, or something like that. It gives you different avenues to consume that journalism in a different way.
Sonia Nazario: Yeah, and in the morning that's all you may have time for, but I save articles in the New York Times, the LA Times, Washington Post, La Opinión. I save them on the website, and then those are saved to read when I crawl [00:10:00] in bed with my iPad, which is probably a bad thing to do in terms of your sleep.
Kyle Davis: Yeah, the blue light's not good for you.
Sonia Nazario: No, but I think that's what a lot of people do.
Kyle Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Let's talk about Enrique's Journey and kind of how you came about this boy's story and we can kind of go from there, this guy's story, now.
Sonia Nazario: Yeah, well, you know, for me it started with a conversation that I think a lot of people might have. I had a woman, Carmen, who would clean my house twice a month in LA, [00:10:30] where I live. One morning, I asked her if she was thinking about having any more kids. She was normally this chatty, happy woman, but when I popped that question, she started sobbing. She explained to me that she had left four children behind in Guatemala, that she was a single mom, her husband had left her. Most days she could only feed them once and she said, "At night my children would cry out to me with hunger, and [00:11:00] I had nothing to give them."
She showed me that morning in my kitchen how she would gently coax those four kids to roll over in bed at night and say to them, "Sleep face down so your stomach doesn't growl so much." She said she had left them with their grandma in Guatemala, and she had come north to LA to work, and that she hadn't seen them in 12 years. It just blew my mind. I could not understand ... I mean, I'm not a mother, but what level of desperation [00:11:30] would it possibly take to walk away from your kids?
She went 2,000 miles north, having no idea when or if she would see those kids again. What I soon learned was that there were millions of people like my house cleaner, Carmen, single moms who had come to the US in recent decades, left children behind thinking, "This'll be one, two years. I'll send for you, my son, quickly," or, "I'll come back to you quickly," [00:12:00] but life in the US is a lot tougher than they think it's going to be. These separations stretch to five, 10 years. These kids, like Carmen's older son, despaired of seeing their mother again, and so they would set off on their own to come and find their mothers.
Because they had no money to make this journey through Mexico, they did it the only way they could, which is gripping onto the tops and sides of freight trains that travel up [00:12:30] the length of Mexico. It's an extraordinarily dangerous, difficult journey. It is a modern day Odyssey, because there are gangsters that control the tops of the trains. There are bandits along side the rails. There are dozen different kinds of corrupt cops trying to ... And all these folks, from the moment these children step on Mexican soil to try to travel north, they're being hunted like animals by people trying to rob, rape, beat them, [00:13:00] kill them, and deport them.
I wanted to write about these ... Back in 2000, it was about 48,000 children who made this journey every year from Mexico, Central America, traveling along with no parent by their side. These are kids as young as seven years old traveling across four countries alone. I traveled with a 12 year old who was traveling alone to find his Momma in San Diego, California from Honduras in [00:13:30] Central America. They're traveling alone and entering the United States unlawfully.
I wanted to talk about what this was like for these children, this journey, what they were leaving, what they were willing to do to get to the United States, and who America's neighbors are, because migrants used to go to six states pretty much, Texas, Florida, New York, California, Illinois, but in the last two, three decades, [00:14:00] immigrants have gone everywhere. That's been both good, but raised enormous hostility in communities that have not seen immigrants in a hundred years, when they came from Germany, and Italy, and Poland. I wanted people to understand, "These are your new neighbors. This is why they're coming, and this is what they've been through."
Kyle Davis: Yeah, you look at where a lot of immigration is flowing now, especially those countries you mentioned from Central America, whether it's Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras, it's overwhelmingly, you know, the diaspora, [00:14:30] or the immigrants, or whatever you want to call them, they're finding themselves in Colorado or Mississippi or some other state that's not Texas or border states like Arizona or California.
Sonia Nazario: Yeah, and I think it's important to stress that this is where migrants are coming from unlawfully now. They're coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. They're much less so coming from Mexico, which has been the primary driver of [00:15:00] it, illegal migration. Today, more Mexicans leave the US each year than come here. There is a net out migration of Mexicans, but the really largest numbers of folks coming now are coming from these countries in Central America.
Kyle Davis: Yeah, I remember, I lived in New Orleans right after Katrina. My Spanish is not as good as my mom's or my dad's, but I remember right after Katrina talking to some of the guys that were there for work, to help with [00:15:30] the clean up effort and everything. They weren't from Mexico. I could barely understand their dialect of Spanish, and overwhelmingly they were from Honduras or like-
Sonia Nazario: Honduras, yeah, yeah. I think New Orleans has the largest, one of the largest concentrations of Hondurans outside of Honduras. It's huge, and many were drawn to New Orleans to reconstruct, which also created many conflicts with African Americans in New Orleans. You know, that [00:16:00] whole issue about, "Are they taking our jobs, or are these jobs that people from here really don't want to do?"
Kyle Davis: Right. Could you speak to the 30,000 foot view of Enrique's Journey and kind of what it was for him, or the story, if you will?
Sonia Nazario: Sure. Well, I met Enrique ... I wanted to tell the story of these tens of thousands of children who make this journey alone every year through one boy's true story. I met [00:16:30] Enrique in northern Mexico. He was on his eighth attempt to make it through Mexico and reach his mother, who initially had come to California. She was now in North Carolina. He had been passed from relative to relative in Honduras. His mother left him when he, he was just five years old when she walked away from him and came to work in the US, left him and his sister behind. He had been passed from relative to relative. He had started [00:17:00] sniffing glue, getting into trouble, and he came to view his mother as really his only salvation. If he could reach her, then everything would be right with the world.
He set off alone to find her when he was 16. I met him when he was 17. He was on his eighth attempt. He was sleeping outside on the muddy banks of the Rio Grande just trying to survive and eating once a day. I watched him for about two weeks. I hung out with him in the morning, middle of the night, [00:17:30] and then I went back to Honduras. I did this journey step by step, just like he had done it a few weeks before. I would travel three months on top of seven fright trains, 1,600 miles, to really reconstruct what he had been through. He went through hunger, cold, heat. He's almost beaten to death on top of a train one night.
He also experiences incredible kindness [00:18:00] with people who have nothing in the middle Mexico, in the state of Veracruz. You know, people who made a dollar a day, who extend a hand and throw food to migrants on the top of the trains. He experiences really the best and the worst of humanity, and he eventually reaches his mother in the United States. Then, a lot of that resentment comes out. A lot of these children say, feel, "My mom said she was coming [00:18:30] right back for me. This is the person who's supposed to most love me in the world, and she abandoned me." He had a lot of conflicts with his mother, as many of these children do after reunifying with her.
Gail Davis: We're just looking to the ... It's such a sad story. It's really, it's so intense. I know it's been adopted by numerous universities. What do you think the tie in is there? We'll share [00:19:00] with the listeners how many universities have picked it as a first year read or an all school read.
Sonia Nazario: Sure. About a hundred universities have now, it's been chosen it as a Freshman or common read, where everyone who starts at that college has to read or discuss one book, and they've chosen Enrique's Journey. Hundreds of high schools, and now with the young adult version, many middle schools are adopting it in this way. I think they've adopted it, it's been among the most adopted books by colleges [00:19:30] because they look for books that promote global awareness, that promote diversity, that have a protagonist that's a similar age as kids who are going to college, maybe facing some of the same issues, family separation, potential drug use as they go off and are alone for the first time in college.
There are many sad elements to the book, but it's also a story of enormous determination against all odds, to make it to [00:20:00] his mother. It's a story of universal themes, of a boy who's willing to go through a hostile world to reach the mother that he loves. I think it's a story that, at least for me, I mean, I lived it. I still have post traumatic stress from living this. I was almost raped on top of the train. I almost had a branch swipe me off the top of the top. It swiped off a boy on the car behind mine, and he probably died as he fell down to those churning wheels below.
[00:20:30] It made me enormously grateful for what I have, being born in this country. By sheer luck, I'm the only one in my family born here. I think those are all the elements that have kind of drawn people to the book, and I think just educators wanting people, before you hate, at least understand. For me, that's been the best part of this journey. I spent five years writing this book, but everyday [00:21:00] I get e-mails from students who say, "I was forced," and usually forced is in capital letters, "To read your book."
Then their tone softens and they say, "You know, I was raised racist, anti-immigrant, to hate all immigrants. I don't know any immigrants, but that's what I was taught growing up. There was only one way to view this. You put me in the shoes of one migrant boy, and it changed my perspective, and I feel a different way now." [00:21:30] For me, that's been enormously gratifying as, you know, perhaps millions of people now have read this book.
Gail Davis: I love that. I love putting a face on an issue. I love that. I also like, it didn't go past me when you talked about how Enrique saw the worst and the best of humanity, because I have been in your audience before, and I remember, and I might have this slightly off, but it feels like there's a village somewhere along the tracks [00:22:00] where some very poor people have created almost a respite home to care for people who have been injured along the way. They take care of these people and try to heal them so they can continue the journey or go back home. Do I have that right?
Sonia Nazario: Yes, in Chiapas, in the southernmost state of Mexico, there's an amazing woman, Olga Sanchez. She has not one now, but two shelters for migrants who are mutilated by the train. Many migrants are thrown off. The gangsters [00:22:30] who, the gangs, I would see 10 or 20 gangsters on top of every train, roaming car to car robbing migrants, raping, throwing them down to those churning wheels. People fall asleep after days on the train, and as you fall down, it sucks you into the wheels. I saw way too many people, children without arms, or legs, or fingers, and this is a shelter that's full of people that have lost limbs to the train, which [00:23:00] they call La Bestia.
She now also has a shelter for refugee women and children, the [inaudible 00:23:09] has truly shifted enormously in recent years because, you know, when Enrique came he came to find his mom. He came for a better life. He was, what I call, an economic migrant. Today, many of these countries in Central America are the most violent places on Earth. As we squeeze the narcos [00:23:30] in Colombia and Mexico, they moved landing their drug flights to places like Honduras, which until last year had the number one homicide rate in the world of countries not at war.
El Salvador now has the number one homicide rate in the world, rates of violence that are similar to the Civil War, which I covered, which is just mind blowing. Today, many of these children are fleeing for their lives, because they're being forcibly conscripted [00:24:00] at young ages nine, 10 years old. The gangs or the narcos that work with them are saying, "You're going to join and work with us or we'll kill you. We will wipe out your whole family in this country." Many of them now are fleeing for their very lives, which is what has caused me to become much more of an advocate for these children than I once was.
Kyle Davis: Yeah, I think that's something that's missing in this. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head earlier, where a lot of people just assume because the [00:24:30] passage is through Mexico that everybody's Mexican, and they're not. They automatically have this assumption that, you know, let's fix the Mexican economy or the violence in [inaudible 00:24:41] or something like that, but that's really not the problem is where these migrants are coming from. It's the gang, it's like MS13 and Honduras, or El Salvador, something like that that's really running the show over there, and it's the conscription element of it that's really driving a lot of kids, especially boys, coming up.
Sonia Nazario: Right, [00:25:00] and that's why when you hear political leaders here talking about how to solve the immigration issue here in the US, I stress that the solutions are truly south of the border, and you see that with Mexico. Mexico for 30 years promoted family planning. They have gone from having nearly seven kids per family to about just over two, and that's put a lot less pressure on Mexicans to migrate to feed all those mouths. Now [00:25:30] you have a lot fewer Mexicans coming to the United States. Some experts believe that the great wave of migration from Mexico is over. Some aren't sure. They think that if our economy really starts percolating, that will draw more Mexicans for these jobs.
I really believe that we keep trying the same three approaches to solve this immigration dilemma in the United States. We talk about border enforcement. We spend 18 [00:26:00] billion dollars a year at this, and yet 97 percent of people who tried repeatedly are able to get past that wall. You can ask the Chinese. The Great Wall of China did not keep out the Mongols. There are ways to get in, and no matter how difficult you make it, and as someone told me who studies Central America, if you're sitting in Honduras and you feel like your house is on fire because of this enormous violence, [00:26:30] you're going to find a way to get out no matter what.
We tried guest worker programs here, and yet most guest workers who come here, they're supposed to go home within a certain amount of time. Instead, they stay and create the foundation of the wave of migration that followed from Mexico. We've tried on the left legalization. The problem is when you legalize people they tell their friends and families, "Come on up." We went from three million in 1996 when we [00:27:00] had an amnesty to one million to now eleven million who are here illegally. I think the three things we keep trying over and over, that are part of comprehensive immigration reform, simply haven't worked.
We need a third way, which is aimed at how do you start to reduce the violence, which is what's really pushing droves of people out of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. How do you start to address that so that people don't feel like they have to flee their countries? [00:27:30] I mean, I saw this with my own family. My mother would have preferred to live in Argentina if she could have, but it was so violent that she couldn't. Most people don't want to leave their home countries if they can stay with all the things they know and love, their family, their culture, their language. They don't want to have to leave. Most of these folks wouldn't leave if they had a choice.
Kyle Davis: Forgetting where I heard this from, but it's almost like treating an illness or a disease kind of like cancer. Instead of [00:28:00] doing whole body chemo, doing a spot treatment and focusing all of your efforts into mitigating or removing the cartels, and all the gangs and stuff in Honduras would be more beneficial than tripling or doubling the border patrol and building a wall, or something like that. It would actually save you far more money.
Sonia Nazario: Yeah, and that's what I saw ... Last summer, I went to, for the New York Times, to report for, [00:28:30] to the most dangerous neighborhood in the murder capital of the world four years running. My husband loves it when I go to these places. In that hot spot of violence, it was a neighborhood called [inaudible 00:28:44] I mean, two years ago six gangs controlled it. There was a 6 pm curfew. Parents, they didn't let their kids step outside in broad daylight. It was so bad the bodies littered the streets in the morning. [00:29:00] There were gangsters who would play soccer with the decapitated head of a person they had just executed, brazenly, out in the street.
The US said, in 2014 this was at the top of the headlines, we saw a huge spike in kids coming from these countries, a tenfold increase over historic norms. They were like, "Oh, well maybe we should try to address the root causes of this." We invested [00:29:30] in violence prevention programs in a few pilot neighborhoods, including this one. We founded outreach centers, where kids can go and get mentors and help getting jobs. We went into schools, and we targeted what, and these are based on programs that have worked in Los Angeles and Boston.
Which kids are most likely to go into gangs? Have some of the nine risk factors, and give them a year of family counseling, and they found that those kids are 77 percent [00:30:00] less likely to commit crimes or use drugs. I think of the most important things is we funded this nonprofit that goes into these worst neighborhoods and investigates homicides, because you know, in Honduras 96 percent of all homicides never get investigated, never lead to a conviction. You can kill someone in broad daylight and get away with it, because the witnesses are terrified to step forward.
They'll be dead tomorrow if they step forward. This group [00:30:30] coaxes witnesses to step forward over the course of months, and they testify with a black burka over them, and they're convictions now on over half of the homicides. What I saw in this worst neighborhood was that in two years with the US help, and really these courageous local residents, leaders who were willing to step up and do the hard work, homicides went down 62 percent in two years. It cut the number of kids fleeing [00:31:00] that neighborhood to the US by half.
I believe that this is a real win win for the United States. It's a smart investment, because we can spend a hundred million dollars in Honduras on this stuff, as we're doing now, a year, or we can wait until these kids come here and we're spending billions of dollars on these kids once they're at our doorstep. For me, this is a no brainer. This is what we should be doing. I fear that now we're looking at cuts [00:31:30] in state department budgets that do this.
Kyle Davis: Yeah, in USAID, or US aid to foreign governments and different things like that. The way that you're talking about it, too, you could take this aid program and infusion of not just treasure and resources into a country, but also sweat equity if you will, and you could transfer that to other issues, whether it be the Syrian immigrants coming across the border and going through [00:32:00] Europe into mainland Europe or North Africa, or anything else like that. You can really start to see a trend of like how do you actually solve these mass influxes of immigration issues, or migrant issues, with regards to why they're coming. Well, there's issues. Why don't we solve those issues?
Sonia Nazario: Right. Absolutely. I think Europe's issues are much greater than ours. Worldwide we're seeing more people migrate around the world right now, and more refugees, [00:32:30] and that's someone who's fleeing their country because they fear for their lives, and they have a government that can't or won't protect them, more than at any time since World War II. I mean, you look at countries like Germany. They took in a million refugees in one year. We took in, you know, President Obama wanted to take in, I think he took in about 80,000 last year. It's a tiny, tiny fraction of what these other countries are doing.
I [00:33:00] personally believe that as we try to work to help these countries, address corruption, and violence, and bad governments, and all of these things, we do need to take in people, especially children who are running for their lives. When you look at the number of children coming to the US alone, it's about 60,000 kids a year. That's one football stadium, or smaller, of children per year. I believe that we, as a nation, [00:33:30] can be compassionate enough to take in these children who are running for their lives. I think that's the kind of country that we should and ought to be.
I believe most Americans would go along with that, would support that. It's not an enormous number that we cannot deal with, and give these kids a safe harbor. I think if a child is running from danger and they knock on our door, a country like ours should be willing to open that door while we work on those issues.
Gail Davis: Hear, hear. [00:34:00] I'm a hundred percent on board with that. I really respect your commitment and your compassion, and I love the blend of heart with facts.
Sonia Nazario: Thank you.
Gail Davis: I just feel that, you know, I'm thrilled that we can get this message out there, and for people to look at this very pertinent issue, and broaden their thinking. It's far bigger than building a wall.
Sonia Nazario: Well, and I like to look at it from a [00:34:30] pragmatic point of view. What will work? The three things we keep trying haven't worked, and as we part piloted these violence prevention programs most aggressively in Honduras and Central American, three years ago 18,000 Honduran kids showed up at our border. Last year it was 10,000. It was almost cut in half. Meanwhile, the number of kids coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, it kept going up. I tell conservatives if you want to slow the [00:35:00] rate of people coming here unlawfully, we know what we have to do, and it's going to cost you less than dealing with these kids, and they will arrive at our border. I mean, we've thrown everything at trying to stop this flow.
I wrote, again for the New York Times, about a year and a half ago out of Mexico, how the US has given Mexico tens of millions of dollars in the last few years to fund a ferocious crackdown aimed at keeping these kids from arriving at our border [00:35:30] and begging for safety. Now they have found ways around that. Just as many kids are fleeing now as two years ago, and despite the fact that getting through Mexico has gotten way more dangerous. The worst narco cartel in Mexico, the Zetas, they are kidnapping 18,000 Central Americans a year.
They prefer to snatch kids off of those trains to demand ransom from parents in the United States, three to five thousand [00:36:00] dollars. If you don't pay, they'll kill that child. They're finding in one state, in Veracruz, they found about 140 mass graves in recent months. Many are presumed to be immigrants. There are huge risks to doing this journey now, much greater than when I did the journey, and yet these kids are still fleeing. I try to look at this in a very pragmatic way. What will work? I think this is what has the best odds [00:36:30] of working.
Kyle Davis: Well, I'm glad you brought up the Zetas. I was actually going to mention that, because it's interesting. I follow this stuff pretty closely, but you look at these, what I like to call, transnational criminal organizations. You look at them and you know, they figure out ways to get drugs in the country. They surely can figure out ways to get people into the country, and it's no free lunch. They're going to charge you. That's the nice way of saying they're going to kidnap your kid, or they're going to kidnap you [00:37:00] when you come across, and then they're going to ask, I think the price that I always hear is like 3,000 to 5,000, like you just say. They always either get it or they have no problem putting a bullet in your head.
Sonia Nazario: Right, right. It's astounding to me what people are willing to do to escape these countries, but when you talk to children and they tell you what they've been through at the hands of the gangs ... Last summer, I was speaking to a boy named Kevin. At seven he started recycling cans [00:37:30] in his neighborhood to make money to eat, and at eight the gangs started pressuring him, "You have to join." They wanted him to move guns and drugs in the neighborhood in that bag that he used to recycle cans. He always told them no.
When he was 10, they came into his hut when his mom was out working and three of them held him down and took turns raping him, and they did it three more times over six months, trying to pressure him to join. When he was 11, he saw 15 people [00:38:00] massacred before him at a soccer game by the gangs. He's had to sidestep bodies hacked to bits on the way to school. I mean, the things these children at the age of eight, nine, 10 face is unbelievable. I would leave if I faced those things.
Kyle Davis: Well, that's a little food for thought for everybody. I think this is a good place for us to wrap up. If you guys are interested in having Sonia Nazario coming to speak for you, [00:38:30] you can do so by contacting GDA Speakers at 214-420-1999, or visiting GDASpeakers.com. If you would like to buy the book Enrique's Journey or read the transcript from today's podcast, you can do so by going to GDApodcast.com. With that being said, Sonia, thank you for joining us.
Gail Davis: Thank you very, very insightful.
Sonia Nazario: No, thank you, Kyle and Gail. This has been great. Thank you.