Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario has spent over 20 years covering issues of hunger, drug addiction, wars in Central America and riots in the United States. On April 16, Nazario spoke in the SUB ballrooms about her work covering complex issues related to immigration, specifically with young children.
The main focus of Nazario’s speech was her 2003 book “Enrique’s Journey” and the issue of immigration from Central America into Mexico and the United States. Her lecture was a part of the distinguished lecture series, which Nick Rae, director of the college of letters and science, described as “a wonderful way we engage with our university community.”
Growing up, Nazario witnessed the political turmoil of Argentina in the 1970s which sparked her interest in journalism. She described how she once saw a puddle of blood on the sidewalk and asked her mother whose blood it was. Her mother responded by saying the blood belonged to a couple of journalists who had “disappeared” (been killed) by the Argentinian government at the time. “I decided staring at that blood, I was going to be a journalist,” she said.
Nazario’s career as a journalist began after she graduated from Williams College and started working for the Wall Street Journal at the age of 21. She said she prefers “fly-on-the-wall reporting … I love throwing myself in the middle of the action, and watching the action unfold.”
While Nazario was living in Los Angeles she had a house cleaner, Carmen, whose background motivated her to investigate the controversial issues surrounding immigration. Carmen had moved to the U.S. and left behind four children in Guatemala who she had not seen for twelve years.
After hearing Carmen’s story, Nazario’s became interested in immigration policies, specifically how children could be affected. She outlined some of the different motivators causing children to illegally migrate to the U.S., noting that the desire to find a birth parent who has migrated into the U.S. and the need to escape violence are the primary reasons children decide to immigrate. Nazario cited the Central American country of Honduras as an example, which has had the highest homicide rate in the world. She said that often, when a parent comes north, their children become scared and desperate and choose to try and make the journey to the U.S. to find a parent.
For migrating children, the trek is perilous according to Nazario. Over 18,000 Central American migrants are kidnapped a year by cartels and 400 people die a year trying to cross the Mexico-U.S. border due to a lack of food and water and exposure to both extreme cold and heat.
Realizing the importance of shedding light onto unaccompanied immigrant children, Nazario decided to do her part as a reporter. After doing extensive research in Central America she decided that she would travel the migrant routes of Central America and Mexico.
To gain an understanding of the trials facing these children, Nazario made the journey of the migrant children twice. Each voyage took her three months. “I took as many precautions as possible,” Nazario said, but despite many safety nets, “This was still a high stakes ride.”
The most dangerous part of the trip occurs after crossing into Mexico. The primary mode of transportation available to migrating children is train hopping and riding on tops and sides of trains. The tops of trains are often controlled by gangs, and risks to children include robbery, beatings, rape and murder.
Enrique, the focus of Nazario’s book, made eight attempts to complete this journey before successfully reaching the U.S., she calls it “modern day Odyssey.” Nazario mentioned that half of the unaccompanied children caught in Mexico are 12 years old or younger.
Nazario believes that the U.S. must reconsider its immigration policies, especially regarding the immigration of unaccompanied children. She asked, “Are we going to rise to the level of humanity that is required of us?” Nazario concluded that she maintains hope that people will make an effort to help, offering possible solutions on her website, enriquesjourney.com.