A while ago I watched a documentary about migrants from Central America trying to cross into the United States, and about the gangs that traffic them, and the dangers which they face on their journey.
I was reminded of these dangers, and the deadly desert landscapes through which the immigrants travel, at work recently. Working in tourism I talk to agents for all sorts of hotels and services in Latin America, and I was being presented a rather smart hotel, by a very well-presented Englishwoman, with a beautiful jacket and sharp haircut when she started talking about her recent visit to Guatemala.
On her visit to a specific hotel she had got talking with the local, Guatemalan manager – a lady with a two-year-old daughter who lives at the hotel five days a week, and only goes home to see her child on weekends. During their conversation the agent had asked the manager,
“What about your husband? Do you see him on the weekends?”
“No. He is in the US. Working. He left recently.”
So the agent asked her, making idle conversation,
“When did he leave? Which airport is the best from Guatemala to the US?”
“Oh no,” replied the manager, “he didn’t fly in. We paid a coyote to take him across.”
When the agent told me this story, and how the manager’s husband had managed to contact her after weeks of travel to tell her that he had made it safely across into the USA because he had been drinking from a puddle away from the main group when they had been caught, I was shocked.
This is a senior employee, of an internationally-recognised luxury hotel company, in essence saying that she is paid so little that her husband is willing to risk separation, all of their savings, and possibly even death simply to make a better life for his family and the daughter he might not see again for years to come.
Sadly, I know that there are many migrants who make this trek, and recent news that around 11 million illegal immigrants into the USA may be granted an amnesty is, for me, positive news. However, there are many people who, like some of my colleagues, who seemed to be unmoved by the stories of these migrants, and either deliberately or unconsciously ignore the desperation so evidently present in the people who decide to undertake this dangerous journey and others like it.
Not only this, but it raises concerns for me personally about the ethics of paying to stay in a hotel where the management, let alone the general staff, feel such a dire need to improve their circumstances. Next time you stay in a hotel, or you buy something in a market, or you ask a taxi-driver to take you to your hotel, think a little about how much in real local terms they are paid, and maybe don’t bother trying to save those few cents you were going to haggle off the cost. It might make the difference to a family about to be driven apart.
Update: I found this article today – interesting views from those literally on the ground.