Central American migrants clash with Mexican forces

By Roberto Ramirez

SUCHIATE RIVER, Guatemala/Mexico (Reuters) – Mexican security forces fired tear gas at rock-hurling Central American migrants who waded across a river into Mexico earlier on Monday, in a chaotic scramble that saw mothers separated from their young children.

The clashes between hundreds of U.S.-bound Central Americans and the Mexican National Guard underscores the challenge President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faces to contain migration at the bidding of his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.

The mostly Honduran migrants numbered around 500, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM). They were part of a group of several thousand people that had set off last week from Honduras, fleeing rampant gang violence and dire job prospects in their homeland.

Video footage showed scattered groups of migrants throwing rocks at a few members of the National Guard militarized police who were on the banks of the river attempting to thwart illegal crossings, while hundreds of others ran past into Mexico.

Five National Guard police were injured in the clashes, the INM said.

“We didn’t come to stay here. We just want to cross to the other side,” said Ingrid, 18, a Honduran migrant. “I don’t want to go back to my country because there is nothing there, just hunger.”

A Reuters witness spoke to at least two mothers whose young children went missing amid the chaos, as the migrants on Mexican soil scattered in an attempt to avoid being detained by Mexican officials.

The INM said it had detained 402 migrants and transferred them to immigration stations where they will receive food, water and shelter. The INM will return them to their home countries via airplane or bus if their legal status cannot be resolved.

A spokeswoman at the INM said the institute had no reports of children going missing amid the clashes.

The Reuters witness said that several kilometers from the border, Mexican immigration authorities had filled a bus and pickup trucks with detained migrants.

The Honduran Ambassador to Mexico, Alden Rivera, said that Mexican authorities have some 1,300 Hondurans in migration centers and will start deporting them back home by airplane and bus on Tuesday.

Trump has threatened to punish Mexico and Central American countries economically if they fail to curb migrant flows, resulting in a series of agreements aimed at making good on Trump campaign promises to curb immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

WADING ACROSS THE RIVER

Over the weekend, at least 2,000 migrants had been camped in the Guatemalan border town of Tecun Uman, opposite Ciudad Hidalgo on the Mexican side.

The migrants appeared to grow impatient on the bridge over the Suchiate River that connects the two countries, after some were denied permission to cross by assembled Mexican migration officials.

The INM said it informed the migrants it could not allow them to cross into Mexican territory to “transit” through and blamed the group’s organizers for “ignoring the risk to minors and at-risk people” by crossing the river.

Mexico has offered migrants work in the south, but those who do not accept it or seek asylum will not be issued safe conduct passes to the United States, and most will be deported, the interior ministry said.

Mexican authorities had already received nearly 1,100 migrants in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco, the ministry said on Sunday.

According to Guatemala, at least 4,000 people entered from Honduras since Wednesday, making for one of the biggest surges since three Central American governments signed agreements with the Trump administration obliging them to assume more of the responsibility for dealing with migrants.

(Reporting by Roberto Ramirez; Additional reporting by Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Writing by David Alire Garcia and Anthony Esposito; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Christopher Cushing)

Second Greek migrant camp in flames as arrivals continue to rise

By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) – A fire in a severely overcrowded migrant camp in Greece forced hundreds of people into the streets, compounding their plight with more refugees arriving on Greek islands daily in what an aid group called a worsening “nightmare”.

Greece sent more police to the island of Samos on Tuesday after the fire, which occurred two weeks after a deadly blaze at a troubled camp on nearby Lesbos triggered protests there.

The Samos fire flared outside the camp on Monday night, firefighters said, before spreading inside. Earlier, three Syrians had been taken to hospital with stab wounds suffered in a fight with a group of Afghans, police said.

Several tents and housing containers were destroyed and 600 people were given shelter by aid groups, the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) charity said. It estimates that half of the camp’s residents are women and children.

“This nightmare must end!” MSF wrote on Twitter. “Children and other vulnerable people must be evacuated from the Greek islands to safe accommodation.”

Greece is struggling with the biggest resurgence in refugee and migrant flows across the Aegean Sea from Turkey since a 2015 crisis when more than a million streamed into Europe, many of them entering the continent via Greece.

A regional governor, Costas Moutzouris, described the current situation on Greece’s frontline islands as “tragic” and called on the government to act.

More than half of refugees and migrants reaching European Union territory this year from the Middle East, Asia and Africa have been to Greece, according to United Nations data.

Athens has announced a stricter migration policy to deal with the crisis, including plans to deport 10,000 migrants by the end of next year. But efforts to ease overcrowding have borne little fruit as arrivals have surged to record levels.

The Samos camp, initially built for about 650 people, is unraveling under the weight of more than 5,700 asylum-seekers, according to the latest government data.

More than 12,000 people arrived in Greece in September, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, the highest level in the three-and-a-half years since the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to seal the Aegean corridor to Europe.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, addressing the Greek parliament on Tuesday, said Greece needed to do more to process its backlog of asylum claims.

He cautioned that Greece might not be able to deal with the potential refugee fallout from a military offensive launched by Turkey against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria last week.

“The pressure currently being placed on populations on the Turkey-Syria border may force several thousand Syrians, or others living in the region, to want to cross the border into Turkey. And then what happens?” Avramopoulos said.

“That would be catastrophic for Greece, and for Europe.”

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Mexico says migrant numbers will fall further, wants no clash with U.S.

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s foreign minister said on Thursday he expected the number of U.S.-bound migrants to fall further and that it was in his country’s interest to avoid tensions with Washington on migration in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard also said Mexico took a different view from the one expressed on Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted a request by the Trump administration to fully enforce a new rule that would curtail asylum applications by immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This is the ruling by the court, it’s a U.S. issue, and obviously we don’t agree with it, we have a different policy,” Ebrard told a regular news conference.

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Dave Graham and Deepa Babington)

Grasshoppers take Vegas by swarm, disrupting weather radar, tourism

FILE PHOTO: A grasshopper lands on a window in Encinitas, California, U.S. October 29,2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – Swarms of grasshoppers have descended upon America’s Sin City in unusual abundance this week, disrupting weather radars, deterring tourists and invoking hysteria on social media.

The clouds of buzzing insects, whose migration through the Las Vegas Valley scientists say is the result of a wetter-than-normal winter, were big enough that the National Weather Service detected them on its radar.

“Radar analysis suggests most of these echoes are biological targets. This typically includes birds, bats, and bugs, and most likely in our case…grasshoppers,” the National Weather Service in Las Vegas said on Friday on Twitter.

Such migrations occur every few years and should not cause alarm since the insects are not dangerous, Jeff Knight, state entomologist for the Nevada Department of Agriculture, said on Thursday at a news conference.

Some locals were not placated.

“This is the wildest thing in nature I’ve ever seen,” one resident, Caitlin Sparks, wrote on Twitter on Sunday, posting a photograph of a street lamp illuminating a night sky filled with grasshoppers.

Attracted to ultra-violet light, the insects have been clustering around the city’s brightly lit tourist district, a concentration of resort hotels and casinos along The Strip. The Luxor Sky Beam, a pillar of light that rises from the Luxor Hotel, has attracted huge swarms at night, according to videos posted to Twitter.

The Best Western Plus Casino Royale on the Strip shut off its lights on Friday and Saturday to avoid attracting the bugs, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Mexico says presidential plane sale to help fund migration plan

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday the sale of the former presidential jet and other aircraft from the last government would help fund efforts to curb migration under a deal struck last week with Washington.

The agreement reached on Friday averted escalating import tariffs of 5% on Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to contain migration via Central America to the United States.

In return, Mexico has agreed to toughen up its migration controls, including deploying its National Guard security force to its southern border with Guatemala.

“About how much this plan is going to cost, let me say, we have the budget,” Lopez Obrador said at his regular daily news conference. “It would come out of what we’re going to receive from the sale of the luxurious presidential plane.”

Lopez Obrador said the price tag of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner used by his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto would start at $150 million, citing a United Nations evaluation. The plane has been on sale for several months.

As soon as he took office in December, the leftist announced plans to sell the plane, whose spacious interior includes a bedroom and is emblazoned with official government seals on the walls and flat-screen monitors.

The jet was acquired in late 2012 for $218 million. It is on sale along with 60 government planes and 70 helicopters.

Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach.

He has also rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, editing by Hugh Bronstein and Susan Thomas)

Mexico to ramp up southern border infrastructure to tackle migration

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico must significantly improve border infrastructure on its southern frontier with Guatemala to make a success of a deal struck last week with the United States to reduce migration, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a regular government news conference, Ebrard said not enough priority had been given to Mexico’s southern border in the past and that the state needs to have a stronger presence across the frontier to deal with migrant flows.

Mexico and the United States signed an agreement on Friday, with Mexico agreeing to take steps to control the flow of people from Central America, including deploying 6,000 members of a new national guard across its border with Guatemala.

The deal averted escalating import tariffs of 5% on Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to curb migration.

Still, Mexico’s government said on Monday it had 45 days to show its measures were yielding results.

Taking questions alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Ebrard said Mexico was accelerating deployment of the national guard along the border with Guatemala and that migrants entering Mexico would all have to register with authorities.

To meet its commitments to Washington, Mexican migration facilities in the south need to be revamped, Ebrard added.

“There must be a different presence of the Mexican state in the south,” he told reporters, noting that the infrastructure along the southern frontier with Guatemala had for years been neglected while Mexico’s northern border was being modernized.

“You go to the south and the first thing you ask yourself is ‘right, where’s the border?’ There’s nothing. The idea is to make the south like the north as far as possible.”

Ebrard said there would need to be provisional installations built before rolling out a broader plan to cope with the flow of migrants arriving from Central America. “Because the reality is that a very big effort needs to be made,” he said.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Hugh Bronstein and Susan Thomas)

Mexico Immigration deal reached, Trump says must be approved or tariffs

Central American migrants cross the Suchiate river on a raft from Tecun Uman, in Guatemala, to Ciudad Hidalgo, as seen from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday hinted more details were to come about a migration pact the United States signed with Mexico last week, saying another portion of the deal with Mexico would need to be ratified by Mexican lawmakers.

He did not provide details but threatened tariffs if Mexico’s Congress did not approve the plan.

“We have fully signed and documented another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico, one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years. It will be revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s legislative body,” Trump tweeted.

“We do not anticipate a problem with the vote but, if for any reason the approval is not forthcoming, tariffs will be reinstated.”

Last month, Trump threatened 5% tariffs on Mexican goods to be imposed on Monday. The duties would have increased every month until they reached 25% in October, unless Mexico stopped illegal immigration across its border with Mexico.

On Friday, the tariffs were called off, after the United States and Mexico announced an agreement on immigration. The joint communique issued by the two countries provided few details.

Critics have said there have been no new major commitments to slow the migration of Central Americans to the United States.

FILE PHOTO: Trucks cross the borderline into the U.S. and into Mexico at the World Trade Bridge, as seen from Laredo, Texas U.S., June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

FILE PHOTO: Trucks cross the borderline into the U.S. and into Mexico at the World Trade Bridge, as seen from Laredo, Texas U.S., June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

The agreement would expedite a program known as the Migration Protection Protocols, which sends people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico as their cases are processed.

That program, announced in December, would be expanded across the entire U.S.-Mexico border under the terms of the agreement, according to the State Department.

The deal would also send the Mexican National Guard police force to its own southern border, where many Central Americans enter Mexico.

“We’re very pleased with this agreement. It has an enforcement mechanism. It has an enforcement feature to it because these tariffs can go on at any time,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said in an interview with Fox News Channel.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wrote in a tweet on Monday morning that he would brief the Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on the details of the agreement.

Ebrard said Lopez Obrador would discuss the deal during his morning news conference.

Marta Barcena Coqui, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Mexican officials had agreed to take steps to reduce illegal immigration “to previous levels that we had maybe last year or in 2018.”

During the talks last week, Mexican sources said officials were resisting safe third country status, which would mean migrants seeking asylum would have to make such a request in the first safe country they crossed.

Under such safe third country status, that country for many Central American migrants fleeing poverty, violence and corruption in their native countries would be Mexico.

Such a change would require legal changes that would take at least 90 days and would need to be ratified by Mexico’s Congress.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; Editing by Larry King and Chizu Nomiyama)

Mexico freezes bank accounts in widening migration clampdown

Border patrol agents apprehend people who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near Falfurrias, Texas, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The Mexican Finance Ministry said on Thursday it blocked the bank accounts of 26 people for their alleged involvement in human trafficking, as Mexico broadens its migration clampdown amid growing pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump.

The ministry’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) said in a statement it froze the accounts due to “probable links with human trafficking and illegal aid to migrant caravans.”

The FIU added that it would present the cases to the Attorney General’s office.

Last week, Trump said the Mexican government must take a harder line on migrants or face 5% tariffs on all its exports to the United States from June 10, rising to as much as 25% later this year.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by David Alire Garcia)

Hope grows for deal to avoid U.S. tariffs on Mexican goods

Trucks cross the borderline into the U.S. before border customs control at the World Trade Bridge, as seen from Laredo, Texas U.S., June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hope grew on Wednesday for a deal to avoid the United States imposing tariffs on Mexican goods in return for Mexico doing more to halt illegal immigration but President Donald Trump said he was willing to go ahead with the import duties if he is not satisfied.

Trump said he thinks Mexico wants to reach an agreement to stop a new trade war – one that analysts believe might tip its economy into a recession – while a White House trade adviser and senior Republican U.S. lawmaker predicted that Washington might not introduce the proposed tariffs.

“Mexico can stop it. They have to stop it, otherwise, we just won’t be able to do business. It’s a very simple thing. And I think they will stop it. I think they want to do something. I think they want to make a deal, and they sent their top people to try and do it,” Trump said at the start of a visit to Ireland.

Frustrated by the lack of progress on a signature issue from his 2016 election campaign, Trump unexpectedly told Mexico last week to take a harder line on curbing illegal immigration or face 5% tariffs on all its exports to the United States starting on Monday, rising to as much as 25% later in the year.

Mexican officials will seek to persuade the White House in talks hosted by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday that their government has done enough to stem immigration and avoid tariffs. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he was optimistic the talks can end in an agreement.

Trump said he would go ahead with the tariffs if Mexico does not do more to control migration.

Lopez Obrador has received an official list of U.S. products that could be subject to retaliatory tariffs if the duties threatened by Trump take effect, officials said in Mexico City.

Trump has faced resistance within his own Republican Party over the threatened tariffs, with many lawmakers concerned about the potential impact on cross-border trade and on U.S. businesses and consumers.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CNN Trump’s threatened tariffs might not be needed.

“We believe that these tariffs may not have to go into effect precisely because we have the Mexicans’ attention” on stemming illegal immigration, Navarro said.

If the tariffs go ahead, the United States would be in a serious dispute with two of its three top trading partners. U.S. relations with China have worsened in the past month as Washington and Beijing have imposed additional tariffs on each others’ imports.

DEAL TALK

Mexican officials will offer a “long list of things” in Wednesday’s talks to avoid the duties, said Chuck Grassley, Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. Grassley said a possible deal could be announced on Thursday night.

Grassley represents the farming state of Iowa, which exports pork and other agriculture products to Mexico and might be hit by Mexican retaliation in a prolonged trade dispute.

Some Republicans have told the White House not to count on the same level of support within the party that Trump received earlier this year when the president declared a national emergency to divert funds to build barriers at the border. Democrats opposed that move.

The proposed tariffs also have been criticized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and industry groups due to concerns about increased costs for U.S. businesses and consumers of imported Mexican goods from cars and auto parts to beer and fruit.

The number of people apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border is at the highest monthly level in more than a decade but is still lower than at other peak periods of illegal immigration since the 1970s. U.S. authorities have said they are overwhelmed not so much by the number of migrants but by a shift in the type of person turning up at the border in recent years. Increasing numbers of Central American families and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum after fleeing criminal violence in their home countries have been turning themselves in to U.S. border agents, who have long been geared up to catch mainly single, adult Mexicans trying to cross clandestinely.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard will attend the talks on tariffs and immigration scheduled in Washington on Wednesday afternoon. He is expected to try to show the White House that authorities are taking steps to stem the flow of migrants, with Mexico detaining double the number each day than it was a year ago.

Leftist Lopez Obrador has said he wants to persuade Washington to help tackle the causes of migration by investing in Central America to create jobs and speed up economic development.

Tariffs could slow another type of migration: the more than 1 million cows exported by Mexico across the border each year that become part of the U.S. beef supply. Tariffs on cattle crossing the border could raise costs for U.S. meat producers and processors, ranchers and economists said, particularly in border states such as New Mexico and Texas.

Pence is looking for a comprehensive suite of proposals from the visiting officials about stopping the flow of migrants from Central America, a White House official said.

“Trade and all other aspects of our relationship are critically important, but national security comes first and the White House is dead serious about moving forward with tariffs if nothing can be done to stem the flow of migrants,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Mexican economy will likely slip into recession this year if Trump follows through on his tariff threat, a Reuters poll of market analysts showed.

An industry source who has met with the Mexican delegation said that ideas being floated to solve the dispute are more border controls and joint security exercises on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, which Central American migrants pass through on their way to the United States.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Alexandra Alper, Roberta Rampton, Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell in Washington, Steve Holland in Ireland, Dave Graham,; Noe Torres and Sharay Angulo in Mexico City, and Gabriel Burin in Buenos Aires; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham)

Venezuela children left behind as parents flee to find work abroad

Iris Olivo holds her grandson Andrew Miranda's hand at the slum of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Shaylim Castro

CARACAS (Reuters) – Yusneiker and Anthonella have been living with their grandmother since their father left Venezuela and its collapsing economy last year for Peru, to try and earn enough to feed them. Two years earlier, their mother fled for the Dominican Republic for the same reason.

Yusneiker, 12, and Anthonella, 8, are eating better thanks to hard currency remittances from their parents, according to their grandmother Aura Orozco, who is grateful for the dollars that offer a reprieve from Venezuela’s annual inflation of nearly 2 million percent.

Still, she said, they miss their parents.

When they fall sick, they clamor for their mother. Though Yusneiker has adapted, Anthonella’s grades have slipped. The dark-eyed, curly-haired girl has clammed up and often answers her grandmother by simply nodding or shaking her head.

“To this day, she will lay down and if you ask her ‘what is wrong?’ she will say ‘I miss my mommy,'” said Orozco, 48, in her home in the hillside Caracas slum of Cota 905.

Some 3 million Venezuelans have migrated in three years, putting a growing strain on the country’s children as more parents are forced into the heart-wrenching decision to leave.

There is no official data on the phenomenon from the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which disputes the idea that there is an exodus, saying international aid agencies are inflating figures to give the administration a black eye. Despite this official skepticism, Maduro has touted a program to help migrants return.

Childhood hunger, decrepit schools and shortages of medicine and vaccinations already were problems amid the collapse of an economy once renowned for abundant oil wealth. With more parents migrating, experts interviewed by Reuters said growing problems facing Venezuelan children now include slumping school performance and malnutrition of newborns separated from would-be nursing mothers.

“These are lose-lose decisions for the parents – do I lose more by not being able to cover basic needs in the country, or by sacrificing the relationship with my child?” said Abel Saraiba, a psychologist with Caracas-based child advocacy group Cecodap.

Venezuelan migration, for years a middle-class phenomenon that involved air travel, is now dominated by working-class citizens who take long bus rides or walk along dangerous paths that are unsuitable for children.

Many also know they face challenging economic circumstances and want to be free to work all-day shifts to send more money home.

Cecodap said problems associated with children left behind by emigrating parents comprised its third most common request for help in 2018, up from fifth place in 2017.

Catholic organization Faith and Happiness, which runs schools in poor neighborhoods, said at least 5 percent of students had seen their parents emigrate as of the start of 2019.

MATERIAL BENEFITS

Children often gain material benefits from their parents’ migration, because sending hard currency to relatives provides greater access to food and medicine and even the occasional gift. Yusneiker’s grandmother was recently able to surprise him with a new pair of sneakers.

Parents say this is little consolation for breaking up a family.

“Even though my kids are older, it still hurts. I miss them so much,” said Omaira Martinez, who left her 17-year-old and 21-year-old children with their grandmother when she moved to Chile six months ago, where she now works washing dishes. “The first few months were hard. I cried a lot.”

Anthonella Peralta looks at photos sent by her mother Yusmarlys Orozco, who lives in Dominican Republic, on grandmother Aura's phone, in their home in the slum Cota 905 in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Anthonella Peralta looks at photos sent by her mother Yusmarlys Orozco, who lives in Dominican Republic, on grandmother Aura’s phone, in their home in the slum Cota 905 in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuela’s Information Ministry, which handles media inquiries for the government, did not respond to a request for comment.

Maduro has warned migrants that they face xenophobia and exploitation in other countries, and has launched a repatriation effort called “Return to the Homeland” that he says has helped some 12,000 unhappy migrants return home.

Often parents are unable to return quickly despite having promised to do so.

When Angymar Jimenez, 27, left for Ecuador to work as a manicurist, she planned to be back in several months. Two years later, her two children Andrew, 5, and Ailin, 10, are still in the care of their grandmother, Iris Olivo.

“(Ailin) at first would say that her mom was coming to get her, she would say goodbye to her friends because she thought she was leaving,” said Olivo. “Eventually she realized that wasn’t happening.”

In extreme cases, migration of a nursing mother can lead to illness and malnutrition.

One-year-old Leanny Santander in the western Falcon state has been suffering from diarrhea and vomiting since her mother moved to Colombia in search of work and stopped breastfeeding her, said her grandmother, Nelida Santander.

Santander said doctors told her Leanny’s health problems, which now include bronchitis, resulted from the early end of breast-feeding.

“I prefer for my granddaughter to be here with me – if her mother took her over there it would be worse,” said Santander, 50. “Here she is sick, but at least I can attend to her.”

The decision to migrate is often made quickly, which means parents are likely to leave children with relatives without giving them custody, putting children in a legal limbo.

A 2018 survey on migration issues by pollster Datanalisis found that about half the households surveyed had not legally placed children in a guardian’s care. That complicates signing up for school, where the presence of both parents is legally required.

The situation puts further pressure on kids to grow up early, sometimes to comfort their own anguished parents.

“I speak to her every day,” said Yusneiker of his mother in the Dominican Republic. “I tell her I miss her, that she should not worry, and that I know she has not abandoned me.”

(Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and David Gregorio)