The Surge

Why Central American kids are flooding Texas, and what it means in Dallas.

The Surge
Jon Krause

If you've stumbled on the nightly news or a daily paper of late, you've heard of the Surge: the wave of Central American children who are arriving, often alone, at the Texas border, and walking right into the arms of Border Patrol agents.

To follow the news is to believe that they started coming last fall, in response to some invitation on heavy card stock and stamped with the presidential seal. The truth is more complicated: Since 2011, as Guatemala, El Salvador and especially Honduras have become overpowered by cartel-controlled gangs, and poverty and violence have gripped their towns and villages, kids as young as 7 and 8 have been making the trek at rates that double every year, sometimes with coyotes and often alone. Many have legal grounds to stay, under laws designed to protect victims of violence and persecution; others don't but choose to make the journey anyway, hoping to somehow avoid deportation or disappear before it comes. Many are reunified with family in Texas — more than 4,000 this year alone, and many more thousands before that — and some wind up in foster care.

We began writing about these kids in April, before their plight ever graced Brian Williams' teleprompter. We've been writing about them since. What follows are a handful of the stories we've written, in print and at, that we hope will help explain what causes the kids to flee, what happens when they get here, and what Dallas is doing in response. Joe Tone, editor

Luba Lukova
Judge Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, says speeding up the process in immigration court is unlikely.
LiPo Ching/MCT/Newscom
Judge Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, says speeding up the process in immigration court is unlikely.

How They Get Here

By Obed Manuel

One day in the summer of 2011, Elvin and Helmer Villanueva were sitting at the kitchen table with their mother and father at their home in Honduras. It was a good day, a stable one during a period of instability. Hermenegildo Villanueva, the boys' father, had been targeted by MS-13, the notorious gang that rules the slums of Central America and has helped make Honduras the world's most murderous country. They'd demanded a "war tax" from his shoe sale business for several weeks, but he continually refused to pay. For the moment, anyway, things seemed to have calmed down some.

Then the bullets came. They crashed through a small window and found their target, the boys' dad. They watched him die, and then they fled.

First they went into hiding in Honduras and then, when that proved impossible, the brothers joined their brother-in-law on a charter bus to the Mexico-Guatemala border. They sneaked into Mexico, hiking through a mountainous forest and facing the elements, bloodthirsty mosquitoes, snakes, blazing days and freezing nights. "If something stung us or we ran out of food, we would have died there," Elvin says. "There was nothing there."

The payoff came when they arrived at Tenosique, Tabasco, home to one of the first major loading stations for their ride north: La Bestia, or "The Beast," a train — a network of them, actually — that rambles through Mexico and is used by migrants to travel north. The train station was heavily guarded, so they boarded at 2 a.m., while it was already on its way out of the city. Elmer and his brother-in-law got on first as Elvin ran alongside, trying to keep up. His sweaty palms reached out for a handle or a railing or anything. He jumped and grabbed on. His legs dangled dangerously close to the wheels, but a hand reached out and pulled him up.

"If you're lucky, you get on. If not, you stay and wait for the next one," Elvin says. "For someone getting on for the first time, it's very dangerous because you don't know what to hold on to and you don't know how difficult it is to hang on."

The train chugged toward Mexico City, its rooftop covered by travelers. They stopped between Coatzacoalcos and Tierra Blanca for three days while the railroad was repaired. When it suddenly rumbled back to life, they say, it sliced the legs off a man who was lying on the tracks. "He stayed there," Elvin says. "We were in the middle of nowhere, so who knows what happened to him?"

Between Orizaba and Tierra Blanca, a man stood up to stretch his legs. A tree branch caught him and he fell between two cars and onto the tracks to be crushed and sliced by the wheels. And then they arrived at the Lecheria Station, near Mexico City, the most perilous stop yet.

The powerful Zetas cartel is known to kidnap unwary migrants at that station, to be held for ransom or murdered as a show of force. Knowing this, the boys slipped off the train and quickly made their way to some hills near the station, to hide until the train was ready to take off. From there, they say, they looked on as three black trucks carrying Zetas drove up to the tracks. Several armed men then derailed a cart and kidnapped at least 50 migrants.

"Being on that train is a terrible experience for a person," Elvin says. "You see things that you would never imagine you would see."

They spent about a month on the rails in total, they say, before reaching Nuevo Laredo. They traveled to Piedras Negras to meet their hired coyote by the river. But the original plan to cross the river was scrapped because the coyote said there was too much surveillance. He left them there, and after three days they ran out of food and water. They feared the worst.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

Great article

I don't understand how they spent a month on the rails and went all that distance to meet up with their HIRED coyote by the river??  Where did the money come from?  How did they get it to the hands of the coyote who knew to meet the boys at the river on what day and when and how would the coyote know it was them and vise versa? 

holmantx topcommenter

"The truth is more complicated"

Just the opposite.

Just ask them.

98% of the "kids" interviewed by ICE said "Univision!"

Radio, television and print media have been running extensive coverage on the President passing the Dream Act with his pen since 2012, when he unilaterally took action.

The President is now holding to the promise he made.

He is dispersing the kids nationwide and not disclosing where, not even to the state governments where he is shipping them.

He is providing immigration lawyers and money through the Justice Department to clog the courts.

Reid is blocking immediate repatriation.


Now thespians, you threw how many words at something the Public sees with its eyes - Surge.  Your word.  Surge.  Wymeya.  Mataha. Tsunami. Mui Gigante. a Divine Wind.

Si se puede!

They come because they can.


@holmantx "98% of the "kids" interviewed by ICE said "Univision!" 

-Which is odd, considering they come from Central America and Univision broadcasts only within the US mainland & Puerto Rico.

holmantx topcommenter

@ElGuapo @holmantx

Univision is available on cable and satellite television throughout Central and South America via TuTv, a joint venture between Televisa and Univision.  It's a push-pull effort.  The President's message was picked up on both ends of the pipeline.


Wow and to think it's the Republicans who are picking on these kids...I guess that isn't the case? 

The problem is that once they get here a lot of them stay on welfare and have kids they can't support unless given food stamps and free school lunch programs and health care.  Getting off the system (tax payers money)  after a year or 2 would free up the money to continue to help undocumented children seeking refuge.  Or better yet, allow them to become tax paying documented immigrants so that more money is being contributed thus helping more people.  Give back instead of taking from! (Stealing)