‘Enrique’s Journey’ author Nazario shares thoughts on immigration dilemma

Author Sonia Nazario presents to Lakeville students and staff to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Ivana Truong

Author Sonia Nazario presents to Lakeville students and staff to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Ivana Truong, Staff writer

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 15th, author Sonia Nazario spoke at Lakeville North to an audience of Lakeville staff and students on one of today’s leading social issues: immigration. She is best known for her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, Enrique’s Journey, where she tells the story of Enrique, one of nearly two hundred thousand children immigrating to the US on the tops of freight trains.

To write the novel, Nazario made the journey herself twice, moving across trains to travel for more than 1,600 miles. She has travelled across Mexico and Central America researching illegal immigration, leading her to speak to a UN general assembly and the US senate.

At Lakeville North, she spoke about the reality of illegal immigration: the gang violence, the horrible conditions, and the “effectiveness”, or lack thereof, in our current border control. Nazario argues that rather than economic immigrants, many of the children coming from Mexico qualify for asylum. Though searching for parents who have left in search of jobs in the US is a contributing factor, Nazario made it clear that the main reason these children leave is because they fear for their life.

These children are coming mainly from countries plagued by violence, like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In 2015 Insight Crimes reported that El Salvador had a homicide rate of 103 per 100,000 people, the highest rate for nations not at war. These high rates are partially caused by an unfortunate geographical situation. Placed between the world’s largest producers of drugs in South America and the world’s largest consumer of drugs, the United States, they can’t help facing an unfair share of violence. According to Nazario, children as young as six or seven risk robbery, rape, gang violence, and the possibility of being killed by the train itself to escape the danger, forced gang recruitment/extortion of home.

Rather than listening to the fear-mongering common in our current society and politics, Nazario feels that the US needs to implement long term solutions, like investing in making these countries safer for their people. Contrary to popular belief, most of these immigrants want to stay at home, but simply can’t. In 2015-2016, the UN News Centre reported that over 180,000 children and families apprehended at the US-Mexico border were fleeing violence. In reality, this number is higher if accounting for those who don’t make it to the US border.

One huge issue is the rampant and unprosecuted violence of Central American countries. On Monday, Nazario spoke specifically about a nonprofit dedicated to protecting witnesses so they can testify in murder cases. Today, most cases of gang violence in Central America go unprosecuted, as witnesses who speak out are murdered as a warning to others. World Bank LAC (Latin and Caribbean Region) suggests addressing this with long-term child-development, effective parenting, and school-based violence prevention programs combined with short-term fixes like more modern policing techniques. They state that this complex, but long-term solution yields great results. LAC points out that though huge military and police campaigns are always widely supported by the public, they are proven to be less effective than job-training and social programs.

In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., Nazario stressed compassion above all else. Nazario urged us to imagine these immigrants as more than statistics, suggesting that if we can see past the numbers and see the complexity and nuance of the situation, we can begin discussing immigration effectively.