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Mexico life at the border: why are so many teens risking their lives to cross the border into the United States?

* OBJECTIVE

Students should understand

* that economic needs drive many young people from Latin America to cross the border into the U.S. illegally, at great risk.

* WORDS TO KNOW

coyote: someone who charges money to guide migrants across the border.

Minutemen: teams of volunteers, sometimes described as vigilantes, who take it upon themselves to patrol the border in California, Arizona, and Texas.

* TEACHING STRATEGY

Ask: "What risks do you think people face when they try to enter the U.S. illegally from Mexico? Why would they take those risks?"

* BACKGROUND

Opposition to illegal immigration takes many forms, official and nonofficial. Congress recently passed the Real ID Act, which requires states to get proof of citizenship or legal residency before issuing driver's licenses.

* CRITICAL THINKING

CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why do many people risk their lives to illegally cross the Mexican border into the U.S.? (the lack of decent-paying jobs in many Latin American countries, and the greater possibility of earning a living wage in the U.S.)

DEFINING A PROBLEM: Why are many Americans concerned about illegal immigration? (various reasons, including belief that illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans, don't pay taxes, and are a drain on government services)

* ACTIVITY

FINDING SOLUTIONS: Ask students to write a letter to President Bush supporting or opposing his plan to give permits to Mexican laborers who are working in this country illegally. What other solutions to the problem of illegal immigration might they suggest?

STANDARDS

SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8

* Global connections: How the economic imbalance between the U.S. and Latin America affects life on the U.S.-Mexico border.

* Power, authority, and governance: How and why the governments of Mexico and the U.S. try to limit violence and illegal crossings of their border.

RESOURCES

PRINT

* Costain, Meredith and Paul Collins, Welcome to Mexico (Chelsea House Publishers, 2002). Grades 4-8.

* Paulsen, Gary, The Crossing (Random House, 1990). Grades 5-8.

WEB SITES

* Mexican culture mexonline.com/culture.htm

* Mexico factmonster.com/ipka /A0107779.html

At 14, Victor has plenty of experience in the dangerous business of border crossing. The Mexican teen is slim with muscular legs. He has crossed the border into Texas so many times that he knows secret trails and shallow parts of the Rio Grande River. He knows where it is easier to travel.

The U.S.-Mexican border stretches about 2,000 miles between San Diego, California, and Brownsville, Texas. Tens of thousands of people cross it legally each day to shop, work, and trade goods. Many others cross it illegally, and usually at great risk.

Victor, who is one of the illegal crossers, did not want to give his real name. JS recently spoke with him at a church shelter in Reynosa, a large Mexican city across the border from McAllen, Texas (see map, p. 15).

Each month, about 200 migrants from Mexico and Central America come to the shelter to rest before trying to make it into the U.S. At the shelter, Catholic Church workers provide cots, showers, and hot meals. Large posters warn migrants of the dangers of crossing the border illegally.

Victor is like many of the migrants. Each year, between 300,000 and 400,000 people try to cross the border illegally. U.S. government officials think that about 10 percent, or around 40,000 of the migrants, are minors--kids under 18 years old.

Victor is soft-spoken, often playing with the bill of his baseball cap as he talks to strangers. He says that he is not afraid of gang members who rob migrants. "I know who they are, and I tell them to just leave me alone," Victor said.

Soon after he spoke to us, Victor and a group of about a dozen migrants disappeared from the church. Church workers said that they probably tried to cross the border together. They think Victor is actually a "coyote"--an individual who charges money to guide others across the border.

Escaping Poverty

Most migrants who travel across the southern U.S. border are from Mexico. But many, including 15-year-old Juan Carlos, come from Central America.

Migrants like Juan Carlos, who is from Honduras, believe that they can escape poverty in their countries only by sneaking into the U.S. Immigration experts say that Mexico and Central America don't have enough jobs to keep young people from leaving.

Juan Carlos first tried to cross the border after he finished sixth grade. He was caught and sent back to Honduras. Now he is trying again. For two months this summer, he and his brother traveled by train and on foot for more than 2,000 miles to get to Reynosa. They hope to make it to New York City, where a cousin lives. "I want to work in New York," Juan Carlos told JS, "and send money home to my family, like my cousin does."

Juan Carlos will find that it is not easy to cross the border. On any given day, 11,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents are on duty to stop illegal entries. U.S. officials propose adding another 4,000 agents over the next five years, especially in Arizona and Texas, where illegal crossing is the heaviest.

If not arrested at the border, illegal migrants have a difficult life in the U.S. Many states will not grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants of allow them to work on the books.

Violence at the Border

According to the Mexican government, as many as 500 people have been murdered along the U.S.-Mexican border this year. Most were caught in violent clashes between criminal gangs.

More and more children are being recruited to smuggle drugs into the U.S. Some kids are even being paid to shoot people, say officials.

Mexican President Vicente (vee-SEN-tay) Fox has called on his country's army and federal police to help fight crime along the border. But violence is not the only danger. Each year, as many as 400 people die because they get lost in the desert of drown in rivers. Along the border in Tijuana (tee-WAH-nuh), Mexicans have placed white crosses to honor the migrants who died trying to reach the U.S.

Concerns in the U.S.

U.S. lawmakers are concerned about the number of illegal immigrants entering the country each year. They say that inadequate border security leaves America open to the threat of terrorism.

"I hear, from California to the Carolinas, from Montana to Mississippi, from Arizona to Iowa, that border security and national security and the whole question of illegal immigration [are] number one on the list" of concerns, U.S. Representative J.D. Hayworth (R, Arizona) told CNN in August.

Some Americans have formed teams called "Minutemen" to help the border patrol. These volunteers say that immigrants are taking jobs from U.S. citizens. But President George W. Bush opposes the work of these groups, calling them vigilantes.

Bush has proposed a guest-worker program to help address the problem of illegal immigration. It would grant temporary work permits to many illegal Mexican laborers. About half of the estimated 10 million Mexicans living in the U.S. are considered illegal.

The President says that his plan is "a compassionate way to treat people who come to our country." But many U.S. lawmakers are against the program. They see it as rewarding criminal behavior. "We can't allow our laws to be violated and ignored," said Representative Walter Jones (R, North Carolina).

Still, American farms, restaurants, and hotels have long hired illegal immigrants because they will work for wages that are considered low by U.S. standards.

"For me, working is more important than school," Victor said. "I like school, but in Mexico, even if I study hard, I won't find a job like I can in Texas."

MEXICO

Mexico is a federal republic made up of 31 states and the Federal District (similar to Washington, D.C.). Indian tribes settled the area before 8000 B.C. In 1521, the ruling Aztec Indians fell to Spanish invaders. After a violent clash, Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821.

Today, Mexico faces stubborn challenges, including high rates of poverty and unemployment. But its people take great pride in their vibrant communities and colorful traditions.

FACTS TO KNOW

AREA: 756,062 square miles, nearly three times the size of Texas.

POPULATION: 107,000,000. Most are mestizos--people of Indian and European (mostly Spanish) ancestry.

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION UNDER 15: 31

GOVERNMENT: Presidential-legislative democracy. Vicente Fox became President in December 2000.

GERMANY: Free-market economy that is at the trillion-dollar level. Mexico now has free-trade agreements with more than 40 countries, including the U.S., Canada, and Japan. In 2004, Mexico was the world's fifth-largest oil producer.

MONETARY UNIT: The peso, worth about 9.3 cents in U.S. currency.

PER CAPITA GDP *: $9,600.

RELIGION: Roman Catholic, 89%; Protestant, 6%; other, 5%.

LITERACY: Males, 94%; females, 90.5%.

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Males, 73 years; females, 78 years.

QUESTIONS

1. What are the six Mexican states that run along the country's border with the U.S.?

2. Which Central American countries lie on Mexico's southern border?

3. Which three gulfs border Mexico?

4. Which river runs along most of the Texas-Mexico border?

5. What is the desert that lies south of Arizona?

6. Is the state of Oaxaca (wah-HAH-kah) north or south of the equator?

7. Which city sits on the IO0oW line of longitude?

8. How many miles apart are Mexico City and El Paso?

9. To travel from Tampico to Acapulco, you would head in which direction?

10. What is the name of Brownsville's twin city in Mexico?

* GDP stands for gross domestic product; per capita means per person. The amount is the value of all items produced by the country in a year, divided by the population, and is often used as a measure of wealth.

Answers

1. Baja California Norte, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Ledn, Tamaulipas

2. Belize, Guatemala

3. Gulf of California, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Tehuantepec

4. Rio Grande

5. Sonoran Desert

6. north

7. Acapulco

8. 1,000 miles

9. southwest

10. Matamoros

Words to Know

* migrants: people who more from place to place in search of work

* vigilantes: people who take the enforcement of laws into their own hands.

Your Turn

THINK ABOUT IT

1. What challenges does Juan Carlos face in trying to cross the border? What other hardships would confront him if he settled in the U.S.?

2. Do you think President Bush's guest-worker program would help solve the problem of illegal immigration? Why or Why not?

QUICK QUIZ

* Write the letter of the correct answer on the line before each question.

--11. Who is the President of Mexico?

A. Juan Carlos

B. Vicente Fox

C. J. D. Hayworth

--12. About 10 percent of the people who try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border each year are what?

A. miners

B. minors

C. Minutemen

--13. Most of the migrants who cross the Southern border of the U.S. are from where?

A. Cuba

B. Honduras

C. Mexico

--14. What has President Bush proposed to address the problem of illegal immigration?

A. educating "coyotes"

B. a guest-worker program

C. "Minuteman" vigilantes

--15. The U.S.-Mexico border runs from San Diego, California, to which city?

A. Brownsville, Texas

B. Laredo, Texas

C. Reynosa, Mexico

Answers

11. B

12. B

13. C

14. B

15. A
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:WORLD
Author:Sandoval, Ricardo
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 3, 2005
Words:1902
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