The Journey to a Better Life

Oct. 15, 2016, 6:45 a.m. ·

Ingrid Brown left her family and nine-month-old daughter to journey from Honduras to the U.S. when she was 19 years old. (Photo: Robyn Murray)

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Children from Central America make treacherous journeys to the United States to escape horrific violence in their countries. Journalist Sonia Nazario, who recently spoke in Nebraska, has written extensively about these child migrants. Reporter Robyn Murray talked to one woman in the Midwest who knows all too well the dangers of staying in and leaving Central America.

Ingrid Brown left Honduras when she was 19 years old. She walked for hours, sometimes days, for the approximately 2700-mile journey to California. Crossing borders and deserts, with many stretches controlled by violent gangs, it is a treacherous path. And many don’t make it. Speaking through an interpreter, Brown told me she saw people abandoned and stranded along the way. But she never gave up.

What Would Ingrid Brown Like The Audience to Know About People Who Come to the U.S. Illegally?

"I would say that they please not judge us. That they give us a chance. That they give us a chance to work and to show that we are hardworking people, and that we're here because there are no opportunities for us in our countries.

"We come here to have a better and a more worthy life."

- Ingrid Brown

“No matter how many months it took, I knew I had to keep going,” she said. “And I did keep going because I had to get here in order to find a better life.”

Brown says the drug gangs who control much of Honduras offer brutal choices: join or watch your family be killed. In search of another option, Brown headed for the U.S. She now lives near Omaha in Council Bluffs, Iowa. But she left behind her whole family in Honduras, including her nine-month old daughter.

“It was something that was very, very hard, and it’s hard to describe,” Brown said, tears streaming down her face. “You come because you’re looking for a better life for your children and yourself. So economically, that’s why you do it.”

“It’s something I guess physically you can’t make up,” she said. “You can’t recover that or recuperate that over time. It’s lost.”

Brown thought she would be able to bring her daughter to the U.S. once she got settled. But that proved far more difficult than she realized. It’s now been 12 years since she saw her.

Brown’s story is not uncommon. The number of child migrants fleeing Central America began a surge in 2013 that peaked with more than 10,000 arriving at the border the following June. Many of those children are searching for their mothers.

Sonia Nazario aboard the "Train of Death" traveling from Central America to the U.S. border. (Courtesy photo)

“Why would any child make this journey today? For God’s sake, why would any parent allow them to make this journey today?” Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist posed those questions in Lincoln recently, when she speaking at the Governor’s Lecture in the Humanities, part of the E.N. Thompson Forum. “The answer,” she said, “is this journey today is actually less dangerous than leaving your kid in a country like Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala.”

Nazario has covered migration from South and Central America up close. In fact, she took the journey herself. She spent three months on the roof of a train, which migrants call the “Train of Death.” It is ruled by gangs where children are beaten, raped and sometimes thrown overboard.

Listen to Sonia Nazario's full Governor's lecture

“I felt tense or filthy and in fear of being robbed or beaten or raped many days on that train,” Nazario said to packed audience at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. “The hell of that journey in southern Mexico, there’s really no other way to say it, it crushed my faith in human beings.”

Nazario says the children who make it to the U.S. should be considered refugees, not illegal immigrants. Since she made the journey, there has been some success in stemming the tide of migrants from Honduras. The U.S. has invested in targeted anti-violence programs in some neighborhoods that have shown remarkable turnarounds. Nazario argues more should be done to keep migrants at home. “They’ve managed through these programs to reduce homicides 62% in two years,” she said. “They’ve cut the number of kids fleeing this neighborhood by half.”

“That’s a smart investment,” she added. “You spend millions there to prevent spending billions here once these children have arrived at our border.”

In Ingrid Brown’s hometown, not much has changed. The morning of our interview she found out her brother had been kidnapped by one of the gangs, and she has no idea how to find him.

“They have no idea where he is or what’s happening to him,” she said, “because those guys are the ones that give the orders down there. They’re the ones that make life or death decisions because they think they’re gods.”

Even though her new life is more secure, Brown says it will never make up for the lost time with her daughter. She finally has her immigration documents approved and is hoping to bring her daughter to Council Bluffs this December. But as with many of the separated migrant families, their relationship is frayed. Her daughter doesn’t understand why she was left and is angry at her mother. She says she has no idea how she’ll repair their relationship. “I’m a stranger to her,” she said. “She’s my daughter, but I have no idea what her character is like.”

Brown’s daughter will have plenty to absorb when she reunites with her mother who is now married to an American citizen and has three additional children.

I asked her if knowing what she knows now, would she do it again.

“No,” she said simply. “It’s not worth it.”