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“Kidnapped at the Border”

Kidnapped: Brayan Godoy (left) and his brother, Robinson, were travelling from Guatemala to join their parents, in Trenton. In Texas, a woman in a white car said, “Get in!”Check out my New Yorker piece from last spring on the vast migrant extortion business, across the U.S. and Mexico:

I focus on the kidnapping of two smart, resourceful teenage boys from Guatemala, Brayan and Robinson Godoy, who fled gang violence last year on a journey to join their parents in Trenton, New Jersey (as unaccompanied minors). In south Texas, the boys were seized by rogue opportunists who extorted their family for cash, in a pattern that’s currently victimizing thousands of families much like theirs each year. The piece, titled “Where are the Children?”, explores how a broken immigration system feeds this trend, by empowering organized crime — much as is true, these days, in the Mediterranean, when it comes to refugees fleeing Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other crisis zones.

I try to cover the U.S./Mexican extortion crisis from both sides of the border, writing about my bus trip into the heart of Mexico’s drug-war territory with more than forty Central American mothers, in order to search for signs of their missing children and husbands (most of whom disappeared en route to the U.S.). Some were lost to Mexico’s domestic kidnapping and extortion market, through which cartels and their subsidiarie  s prey upon the poorest, squeezing them for cash and labor. The Godoy family’s saga continues — the boys now face possible deportation — so I hope to post an update before long. Thanks to the brilliant Katie Orlinsky for her powerful photographs.

Tougher border security has made migrants more vulnerable. Routes are more perilous, and organized crime controls many smuggling operations. One activist says, “The harder you make it to cross, the more people can charge, the more dangerous the trip becomes.”

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