EL PARAÍSO, Guatemala — The smugglers advertised on the radio as spring bloomed into summer: “Do you want to live better? Come with me.”
Cecilia, a restless wisp of a girl, heard the pitch and ached to go. Her stepfather had been murdered, forcing her, her mother and four younger siblings into her aunt’s tiny home, with just three beds for 10 people. It was all they had — and all a smuggler needed. He offered them a loan of $7,000 for Cecilia’s journey, with the property as a guarantee. “I gave him the original deed,” said Jacinta, her aunt, noting that the smuggler gave them a year to repay the loan, with interest. “I did it out of love.”
The trip lasted nearly a month, devolving from a journey of want and fear into an outright abduction by smugglers in the United States. Freedom came only after an extra $1,000 payment, made at a gas station in Fort Myers, Fla., as her kidnappers flashed a gun.
Now in Miami, Cecilia, 16, is one of more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have come to the United States illegally from Central America in less than a year. Though the number of new arrivals has been declining, the Obama administration says it is determined to “confront the smugglers of these unaccompanied children,” and the “cartels who tax or exploit them in their passage.”