When authorities found an 11-year-old Guatemalan boy’s body about a mile from Texas’ southern border, they also discovered his brother’s Chicago phone number scribbled on the inside of his belt buckle.
The boy, wearing “Angry Birds” jeans, black leather boots and a white rosary around his neck, had apparently gotten lost on his way north from his native country and was found about two weeks ago, alone in the brush less than a mile from the nearest U.S. home, a South Texas sheriff said Monday.
While hundreds of immigrants die crossing the border each year, the discovery of Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez’s decomposed body in the Rio Grande Valley on June 15 highlights the perils unaccompanied children face as the U.S. government searches for ways to deal with record numbers of children crossing into the country illegally.
“Down here finding a decomposed body … we come across them quite often,” Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said, adding that this was the first child immigrant his office has found since he became sheriff in April. “It’s a very dangerous journey.”
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended entering the U.S. illegally since October, creating what President Barack Obama has called an “urgent humanitarian situation.” On Monday, Obama asked Congress for more money and additional authority to deal with the surge of youths, mostly from Central America. Obama wants flexibility to speed the youths’ deportations and $2 billion to hire more immigration judges and open more detention facilities.
The number of unaccompanied immigrant children picked up along the border has been rising for three years as they fled pervasive gang violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. More recently, children and parents have said they heard children traveling alone and parents traveling with young kids would be released by authorities and allowed to continue to their destination.
Many of the children turn themselves in to the first law enforcement person they see, so Guerra said it was unusual to find a child in this more remote area — near La Joya, about 20 miles west of McAllen. Sometimes smugglers, known as coyotes, leave people behind if they can’t go on; other times a group may scatter when authorities approach.
Investigators were able to reach the boy’s brother in Chicago; his phone number was one of three on the boy’s belt. It’s not uncommon for immigrants to put relatives’ phone numbers on their clothing because scraps of paper can get lost or wet during their journey.