El Salvador’s Coyote Cartoon Seeks to Slow Child Migrants

The public service cartoon looks like a scene from a kids’ fairytale. The target is El Salvadoran parents seeking to send their children north with smugglers promising to get them to a better life in the U.S.

A father answering the phone at home is told by a “coyote,” a slang term for human smugglers, that his children will be safe with him. The children are then led through the dark woods by a sinister-looking jackal.

“It was all a lie,” a girl’s voice says. “We spent days without eating. They touched me,” she adds, while a boy says he was “sold with other people, forced to work and mistreated.” Another girl says she was abandoned in the desert.

The commercial, funded in part by the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, is the latest effort to stem a surge in unaccompanied children from Central America’s violent “northern triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras trying to enter the U.S. The increase prompted President Barack Obama to seek $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress.

About 57,000 unaccompanied children were stopped by U.S. authorities trying to enter the country in the nine months through June 30, up from 16,000 in 2011. While the number of unaccompanied Mexican children trying to reach the U.S. declined in recent years, the increase has been driven by minors from the three northern triangle countries, which have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

“Let’s not risk the lives of our little girls, boys and teenagers,” a woman says at the end of the new commercial. “Protecting them is our responsibility.”

‘Exhausted and Scared’

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency also has a media campaign, which includes radio spots, songs and posters to dissuade potential migrants in the region. Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said minors are being picked up “exhausted and scared” after making the journey to the U.S. border.

While foreign ministers from the three northern triangle nations met in El Salvador this month to discuss ways to slow the migration, the economic and crime challenges facing the three countries may be too much for them to handle on their own, said Eric Hershberg, director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University in Washington.

U.S. Congress

“The rational response would be to look at this, in effect, as a natural disaster,” he said in an interview, citing the example of international assistance in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which killed more than 10,000 people and left more than 2 million people homeless when it passed over Central America in 1998.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organization of American States, today called for a regional response to the child migration phenomenon, calling it a “humanitarian drama.” Citing the UN Refugee Agency, Insulza said more than 50 percent of the child migrants could probably be classified as refugees. Insulza spoke at the International Conference on Migration, Childhood and Family in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

U.S. lawmakers are moving to pass legislation addressing the border influx ahead of Congress’s August recess. Representative Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said some funding will be provided for immediate needs and additional support will be considered in the 2015 appropriations process.

The spending legislation will bypass consideration by committees and go directly to the House and Senate floors, said two congressional aides who sought anonymity today to discuss lawmakers’ plans.

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