Government's warning not deterring all immigrants

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A media campaign designed to deter Central American immigrants from illegally crossing into the United States is not yet proving to be a strong enough warning for those waiting at shelters in Mexican border cities.

Local 2 Investigates traveled to a shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, and spoke with Central American immigrants who said they still plan to try to sneak into Texas.

"I heard that if someone has problems in their country then the U.S. can help," said Daisy Maribel Madrid-Orallana.

Madrid-Orallana said she is fleeing an abusive husband in Honduras and is trying to reach family members in Houston. The mother of two said she and her daughters are staying at the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe shelter while trying to raise the money to pay for a smuggler to get her into Texas. Madrid-Orallana said the money she had to pay for a smuggler was taken by a Mexican soldier at a checkpoint outside Monterrey.

"It is important to me to give my family a better life," said Madrid-Orallana.

Madrid-Orallana said she has heard the government's warning that there is no asylum waiting for them in the U.S., but added friends and family in Texas told her there is "still a chance" she can stay because she is traveling with her daughters, who are 4 and 6 years old.

A 19-year-old Honduran man staying at the same shelter told Local 2 he is also trying to reach family in Houston.

"My family is trying to hire a guide, so I am waiting on a 'coyote' I know," said Franklin Gadiel Membrano-Nunez.

Membrano-Nunez said he has also heard the government's warning that he will likely be deported if he is caught crossing the border illegally.

"It's important, but at the same time you got to take a chance to go across," said Membrano-Nunez.

Membrano-Nunez said he left Honduras because of a lack of jobs and he is hoping to be able to stay in the U.S. for at least three years.

"I just want to get with my family so I can help my other family members in Honduras," said Membrano-Nunez.

The Catholic nun who runs the shelter told Local 2 she has seen an increasing number of Central American families coming through Reynosa. Sister Maria Nidelvia-Avila said despite the government's warning many are still being guided by misinformation.

"I don't know who is saying this, but they are being told the U.S. is still letting kids walk across the border," said Nidelvia-Avila, who is with the Catholic Diocese of Matamoros.

Nidelvia-Avila said the shelter is also providing protection to Central American immigrants who have become frequent targets of crime in Mexico.

"The governments are going to have work together to solve this problem; simply closing the borders will not help," said Nidelvia-Avila.

The federal government has spent $1 million on radio and TV public service announcements, songs and billboards that all warn Central American immigrants, especially parents, about the dangers of the trip north and that there is no automatic asylum. This campaign launched in early July and will run through September in Central American countries and Mexico.

Within President Barack Obama's nearly $4 billion dollar proposal to Congress, there is a request for another $5 million to continue this media campaign. Officials from Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of State have not yet responded to Local 2's request as to how the government will measure the effectiveness and impact of this campaign.

The president is also asking for $1.8 billion to be spent on the care of unaccompanied Central American children caught crossing the border illegally. Another $1.1 billion would go toward transportation for these children, the detention and removal of adults traveling with children, increased detention space, as well as increasing resources devoted to investigating smuggling operations in Mexico.

The president's proposal also includes $433 million for adding manpower along the border and increasing operational costs. The remaining money would go toward aiding Central American countries with repatriating citizens and programs aimed at curbing migration, as well as additional immigration judges and attorneys to speed up deportation hearings.

Congress remains deadlocked on the president's request and has until the end of the month to make a decision before going on its annual break.

Nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have been caught crossing the border illegally since October, which has overwhelmed detention facilities along the border. Federal and congressional officials estimate that number could reach 90,000 by the end of the year.

The Department of Homeland Security has not yet responded to numerous requests from Local 2 as to how many Central American immigrants caught illegally crossing the border have been released on their own recognizance due to a lack of detention space or how many of these individuals have appeared at mandated immigration hearings.

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