Q & A with Andrew Kennis

Andrew Kennis is an international journalist, researcher, and professor at University of Texas, El Paso. Dr. Kennis is currently the border correspondent for teleSUR’s English division and has written for a variety of publications including Al Jazeera English, The Christian Science Monitor, Proceso (Mexico), Time Out, and emeequis (Mexico). Learn more about his work by visiting his profile and follow him @andrew_kennis

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Interviewed by Virginia Isaad

You’ve said that a lot of what you cover isn’t included in mainstream media. What would you say is an important story (or stories) that you feel the general public needs to know about regarding the violence in Mexico?

This is not an easy question, as there are so many stories in Mexico that the U.S. public deserves to know about, with accessible reporting and investigations. Yet, given the close relationship that the U.S. has with Mexico, and its importance as a client state, there is little that most U.S. citizens know about what is actually going on south of the border.

There is a principle about powerful nations which U.S. journalism should especially abide by: one can learn a lot about themselves by taking a close look at how one’s neighbors are treated. Mexico is one of the U.S.’s most important allies and U.S. policy is clearly fueling a lot of the violence in Mexico. A frightening, tremendous amount. Yet, we read little to nothing about these connections … or even just about the violence itself. When and if there is reporting, it depicts the situation as chaotic, anarchic, out-of-control and with little to no responsibility by high-ranking officials.

The most recent and striking example is what is being called the worst student massacre since 1968, which occurred in the drug war-torn and poverty-stricken state of Guerrero. If ever there was a more powerful display of the “narco estado” bearing itself full on, it was this one. UPDATE: Therein, the mayor and chief of police are already fugitives of the law for having fled soon after it was announced that they were leading suspects for masterminding this gruesome tragedy. It is understood that local officials facilitated a leading street gang to do the dirty work of the kidnapping, torture and eventually burning to death of at least 43 student activists and demonstrators.

Mexico is one of the leading recipients of U.S. weapons, training and crucial diplomatic support. The White House has barely breathed a word about this massacre and the rest of the U.S. news media is largely following in step. The outcry in Mexico is tremendous and the official admittances to crimes is also significant, which has resulted in a few op-eds and reports. But the White House reaction has been mum and thus, this has limited what should be far more extensive coverage and leading story investigations, and priorities. It simply has not been. Were it not for the strong reaction in Mexico, coverage would probably be even less significant and probing.

The U.S. itself is even cast off as a victim of Mexican spill-over violence or immigration or whatever nuisance can be conjured up, of course with the sole fault lying with Mexico itself. There’s little to nothing about U.S. culpability for the drug war being fueled by U.S. leading policies, or for too much of the violence that Mexico has to weather and endure.

I don’t want to mislead, Mexican officials indeed have plenty of culpability themselves, but the overwhelming amount of attention (if any) goes to just that … Mexican culpability, as opposed to the U.S. role. Instead, a wayward Mexican state is depicted, a “failed state,” as some U.S. officials have put it. If coverage was more accurate, the term “failed state” wouldn’t be the description … more apt would be, “a failed client state of the U.S.”

You recently wrote an article on the CBP where you mention “Over 8,000 new agents were brought into the ranks of the CBP over a three-year period, from 2006 to 2009. What were the standards they “relaxed” in order to hire so many new agents?

“Relaxed” is actually a conservative description. According to whistle-blowers such as the recently demoted and former Internal Affairs CBP chief, James Tomsheck, screening was all but completely gutted. Previously, a lie-detector test was a standard screening procedure for hiring practices and as many as 50% of applicants were filtered out. The rush to recruitment, to be sure, has been significant.

 Is there any through line with the civilian victims? Are they mainly youths like Jose Antonio?

The only consistency between the victims is that they were mostly accused of rock-throwing. But even U.S. officials have denounced their own allies for the use of fatal force against rock throwers, as was the case with Hillary Clinton in respect to Israel using fatal force against rock-throwing youth in Palestine. In plenty of the cases where video evidence was unearthed, however, it was found that there was no evidence whatsoever of rock-throwing having been involved.

Several other CBP testimonies have also been proven false, including one famous case which involved an unarmed man that was beaten to death and subsequent Congressional action. That case actually wound up being of significant importance, as it led to a snowballing chain of events that finally resulted in some reforms being implemented.

According to the lawyer of many of the families of many Mexican nationals killed by the CBP, whom I actually recently interviewed, significant precedents will be set by what is likely to be a Supreme Court case which will decide whether Mexican nationals have the right to sue the U.S. government when killed in Mexican territory.

Is the corruption directly correlated to the hiring of untrained agents or are there other key factors involved?

It is not just untrained agents, if not, discarded, suspended and literally fired and former policemen. But yes, between the discarded policemen hired and also the lesser trained agents, civil rights advocates, families of the victims and their lawyers all argue that this is very much the root of the problem … relating of course to the more general and long-running trend of the militarization of the border during the post 9-11 era.

What can you tell us about the cameras CBP has promised to start using?

I can’t tell you much at all about them, since a year after the first promises of their implementation by the CBP, they are still not in use. I was recently pulled over by federales in Mexico and was asked for an international travel auto permit when I drove a bit outside of Juarez. Interestingly enough, I noticed that there was a camera affixed to their car. Everything was being recorded. The cops were more nice, courteous, understanding and reasonable than any other Mexican law enforcement authorities with whom I have spoken.

The CBP has claimed that implementation of what would still be a pilot program has been “complicated” and “expensive.” That sounds like mere excuses to me. In any case, even with cameras, given the CBP’s proclivity to redact and/or simply not release important information to the public, the cameras may only be of limited, internal use. Again, the lawyer I spoke to today said that the clearest video showing that Sergio Adrián Hernández did indeed not throw any rocks, contrary to CBP testimony, is still under wraps and unreleased by the Department of Justice. We only know what the video’s footage reveals from the DOJ telling the family, verbally, that this was the case, when it met with them to deliver the sordid news that it would not prosecute the CBP agent that killed their unarmed son on Mexican soil.

What cameras should be utilized for is for publicly accessible and transparent access by at least the human rights community, if not the public at-large. As of now, it does not seem that there are any indications that this will be the case and as incredible as it may seem, even cameras may not be enough to eliminate a long-running problem of CBP impunity.

Considering that it seems no CBP agent has been punished for civilian deaths, what reforms needs to be made in order to rectify this?

For a while, we had to write “it seems” in respect to no CBP agent being punished for civilian deaths. But just last month, Tomsheck’s replacement to head up the Internal Affairs department confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that no prosecutions or even punitive measures of any type have been undertaken toward any agent. As anonymous sources both inside the CBP and the State Department confirmed to me … there is most certainly an air of impunity within CBP … an embattled agency these days given increased attention and criticism of its often trigger-happy agents.

First things first then, impunity must be stopped. But eventually, the militarization of the border, as well as the public health problem of drug addiction, both need to end. No solutions for border-based issues, immigration and the illicit drug issues will ever be realized through militarization. Drugs need to be treated as a public health problem, not as an issue of war. Immigration needs to brought out of the shadows and guest-worker / path-to-citizenship programs must be established. Finally, and as important as anything else, NAFTA must be ended so that Mexico can develop its own economy and not be at the behest of multinational capital and investment which continues to flee toward China, anyhow. As Chuck Bowden would often say, Juarez is a laboratory of the future and the future is now. The results are in: NAFTA doesn’t work, as Laura Carlsen elegantly explained in a rare granted entry into the New York Times.

You’ve covered the trial of Vicente Zambada which isn’t covered extensively in mainstream media. What do people need to know about Zambada and how has his trial affected the drug trade?

Most U.S. people don’t even know who Vicente Zambada is, much less his more well-known father, Mayo Zambada (while the opposite is nearly the case with Mexico-based citizenry). Some people recognize the name El Chapo, but on the tip of everyone’s tongues should also be Vicente Zambada too. Given the paltry amount of news coverage on the trial, however, I am not surprised that this is not the case.

That notwithstanding, the Zambada trial was still dubbed as the drug trial of the century by leading U.S. officials, the most important mafioso trial in Chicago since Al Capone himself was tried. Why was this the case?

One measure which shows the importance of the trial to the government is the simple fact that the trial never actually happened. The government’s worst fear was that this case would actually go to trial. For years, the trial was stuck in “pre-trial” phase and went through endless motions to stay the actual trial, the prosecution and defense finally came to a plea agreement which is still in effect to this day. After having attended several of these pre-trial hearings myself, I was struck by how much the court room was controlled by the prosecution and how Judge Castillo, a Clinton appointee and recently promoted, seemed to follow their lead more than anything else. This was a DEA-controlled legal case, it clearly seemed to me.

The plea agreement conditions Zambada’s eventual release on how useful he is as a DEA-informant. This is ironic because Zambada’s whole pre-trial defense rested on being a protected informant. Curiously enough, shortly after the plea agreement was finally announced, which was in actuality a year after the agreement had actually been brokered, El Chapo himself was arrested. Was there a connection between the two? Most of us narco-journos presume that there was.

More than just presume, however, there is some compelling evidence behind Zambada’s claims. One of the most interesting claims is that one of the benefits of his agreement and service to the DEA as an informant was to receive “Fast and Furious” weapons in exchange for his intel on rival cartels. There is sworn testimony under oath, which supports these claims. An investigation I’m in the midst of finalizing will be published next month with some more details about this. Finally, during pre-trial discovery, the prosecution admitted that the Sinaloa cartel’s leading lawyer was a DEA-informant for no less than ten years (from 2001 to 2011). Interestingly enough, this lawyer was present with Vicente Zambada the night both of them met with DEA agents. Later that same night, Zambada was arrested in an apparent DEA double-cross.

Provided Vicente continues to prove useful as a behind-bars DEA-informant, he will be out of prison within a handful of years and will be a free man again. Perhaps at that point, he will be a high-ranking deputy again in the Sinaloa cartel, running it along with his father. It will be interesting to see what happens there.

Churches Join Together For Refugee Families…Presbyterian Church-USA

At the links are two articles on the efforts of different churches in El Paso joining their efforts to help the refugee families from Central America… Now most of these people–mostly women with young children–are being held in detention centers set up at the Border Patrol Training facility in Artesia, NM and at several military bases in Texas, Arizona and California…  By imprisoning these people, they will have practically NO access to attorneys who can advise them of their rights to apply for asylum or other relief from quick deportation…

Grace For Refugees From Central America

Refugees From Central America Provide ‘Gifts’ Of Grace

Recent Shootings in Juarez

There was a shootout today in downtown Juarez near the Santa Fe bridge leaving one municipal policeman dead and a young girl seriously injured. Border Patrol agents pursued several other Juarez police involved in the shooting… A more detailed version in El Diario also posted below…

Yesterday, a used car dealer in Juarez was shot to death… With the killing of the policeman today, there have been at least 29 homicides so far in July in Juarez. -Molly

One Mexican Police Officer Dead, Other Injured In Juárez Shootout (updated) – El Paso Times

Fallece Policía Herido Durante Tiroteo En La Zona Centro – El Diario

Ejecutan De 10 Balazos A Lotero – El Diario

Obama Aides Were Warned Of Brewing Border Crisis…Washington Post

The first link is to a long report in the Washington Post detailing earlier warnings that an immigration crisis involving child migrants was coming. It also suggests that as many as 90,000 unaccompanied children could arrive before the end of this year. The link to the UTEP study will open a pdf document (41 pages). The third link is to the US conference of Catholic Bishop’s Report on unaccompanied children.

Media Visits Artesia, NM Detention Center For Children And Families

There is a slightly more detailed report below from El Diario de El Paso. I believe that the administration thinks it can lock people up and send them back very quickly and that will stop the flow.  It will probably be true even though many of the people coming do have a credible fear of persecution if returned. It is unlikely that the people in these kinds of detention centers will have adequate access to legal counseling and/or representation and thus their deportation will be carried out quickly. Putting these people in prison facilities and shutting them away from media and community humanitarian efforts will help the government to carry out the policy of fast deportation… It is harder to think this process is justified when ordinary people come face to face with the people who make this dangerous journey.

On the other hand, there must not be enough prisons (yet) because some women and children are being released with documents notifying them of their court dates–usually in about a month from the time of their arrest and initial processing.

Volunteer groups in El Paso and Las Cruces continue to provide temporary housing, food, clothing, medical screening and assistance with travel and family reunification continues. “All I see is that here’s a human who needs help,” he said. “They’re just here, so we should help them.” (Leonel Brisen~o, Director of Project Oak Tree, Las Cruces)

Community Pitched In For Weary Immigrants (The Las Cruces Bulletin)

Our Whirlwind Response To Huge Releases Of Migrants (Annunciation House)

DHS Secretary Visits Artesia N.M, Facility; Warns Immigrants ‘We Will Send You Back’ (El Paso Times) 

Deportar Indocumentados En 15 Días, Plan De DHS (El Diario)

Lauren Villagran from the Albuquerque Journal provides some valuable context from immigration attorneys. Also note the restrictions faced by the media at the media event:

“On Friday, ICE provided a tour of unoccupied areas of the Artesian detention center to local and national media. ICE has denied media access to any of the detained migrants at Artesia.”

‘We Will Send You Back': Immigrants Face Deportation As DHS Talks Tough (Albuquerque Journal)

Elite Honduran Unit Works To Stop Flow Of Child Emigrants To U.S…Bortac In Honduras

Excellent report from Cindy Carcamo in Honduras for the LATimes below. She also gave an interview on THE WORLD:

Elite Honduran unit works to stop flow of child emigrants to U.S. (LA Times)

This special security unit went from targeting drug smugglers to spotting unaccompanied kids (The World)

For those who have read Todd Miller’s book, Border Patrol Nation, this story about US trained and funded border police in Honduras will not be a surprise.  I assume that the Obama funding request considers this kind of program in Central America a valuable contribution. There seems to be no awareness in US policy circles about the extreme levels of corruption in the military and police units we supply and train in Mexico and Central America.  Expect more violence–robbery, rape, beatings, extortion–toward the desperate people trying to flee conditions in their countries. But do not expect to see much coverage of it in the US press. -molly

Q & A with Erin Siegal McIntyre

Erin Siegal McIntyre is a photographer who also writes narrative nonfiction, produces for TV and web, and reports for radio. Her work has appeared in the various publications including New Yorker, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and O Magazine. She’s a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, and was a 2012-2013 Soros Media Justice Fellow. Her award-winning book Finding Fernanda was the basis for an hour-long CBS special investigation. She lives in Tijuana.

For more info, visit her website

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Interview by Virginia Isaad

1. Having extensively covered the border, what has been one of the most difficult stories to cover and why?

Difficult can mean various things: a story can be hard technically, hard because of related security concerns, or simply because it’s not sexy enough to place with a media organization. But those kinds of obstacles are regular.

When I think about my three years on the border, covering the narcofosas related to El Pozolero was emotionally challenging. It was a combination of the graphic nature of the discoveries—seeing the actual pipes through which liquefied bodies were pumped, the makeshift holding tanks, the custom spigots, and the various site locations around eastern Tijuana: totally run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen poor neighborhoods— and then the immensity of strength and grace shown by the families in continual searches for kidnapped and disappeared loved ones. That awed me. I’ve been to a number of excavation sites, and came to understand the joy of finding a human bone fragment or tooth—a beacon of hope in the dark, a possible lead that could bring closure or answers.

I’m very protective over my own perception, and I intentionally avoid covering regular nota roja or crime in Mexico. I pay attention, but I don’t actively cover it. Quite simply, I want my instincts to remain as intact as possible; I don’t want to be one of those journalists who becomes deadened or desensitized. You can’t feel, perceive, write, and relay information strongly if you’re operating from a void of detachment.

There is something so intense and profound about the power of hope, civility, and basic human kindness in the face of such an unimaginable, ongoing hunt. I took this photograph of Fernando Ocegueda as he showed me around one excavation site before Mexican investigators arrived. He still hasn’t found his son, or his son’s body. It’s been six years.

fernando

 2. A lot is being reported on immigrant children crossing the border. What do you have to say about this issue?

You can read my latest here.

I also wrote a quick piece this week for TakePart, about abuse allegations related to child detainees under Customs and Border Patrol custody.

I’ve been working in Miami for the last month, and have felt really far from my beats—the border, and child welfare. It’s been frustrating being so far from home!

3. For our Q & A with Todd Miller, he mentioned Border Patrol youth programs and you recently did a story on teenage drug mules. Would you say that as the drug war progresses, youths are more susceptible to the violence than before? Why or Why not?

I’ve done a few stories on teenage drug mules, most recently for NPR’s Latino USA and for Al Jazeera America. I’m not sure you could make the argument that teens are any more susceptible to bad decision-making than ever before. But you might actually be able to make the case that heightened border enforcement leads to a heightened apprehension rate for teens working as mules.

There’s also something to be said related to the normalization of drug use in American society. (Medicinal) marijuana is legal in California, so taping a few pounds of it to your belly and walking across the border in exchange for a hundred bucks or a new cell phone might not seem like such a big deal if you’re a teenager clueless about the criminal consequences.

My AJAM story about Cruz Marcelino Velázquez Acevedo touches on that ignorance; Velázquez was a teen who died in Border Patrol custody after drinking from a bottle of liquid meth while being questioned. He took a gulp to prove to the agents that it was apple juice. He probably didn’t think it would kill him, but it was a painful, agitated death by overdose. He was writhing and crying for his family.

4. During your fellowship with the Open Society you focused on U.S. deportation policy, what did you learn during your time on this project?

This project was an experiment of sorts; I was awarded a Media Justice fellowship to execute a group project along with two other teammates, both of whom had no previous journalism experience. One of my partners was a law professor specializing in juvenile incarceration and immigration detention, and my other partner was a former gang member and deportee who’d served 14 years in American prison, from age 16 to 28.

Our focus was on “bad” immigrants, criminal deportees, and the gray area between. We worked around issues related to people who were deported after serving time for aggravated felony convictions. The definition of “aggravated felony” includes some misdemeanors under current immigration law, so it’s pretty broad. There’s a lot to unpack, and we had a busy year reporting for different platforms, from comic book graphic journalism to traditional TV pieces.

We aimed to tell stories that humanized deportees, specifically those considered “bad” or undesirable, with criminal records. Many people don’t understand that there’s no double jeopardy for non-citizens, green card holders (legal residents) and undocumented immigrants alike. That means after they’ve served time, and if their offense is considered an aggravated felony under U.S immigration law, then they’re automatically deported. There’s no guarantee to counsel, or appeal. They can’t fight it. They’re deported, and there’s no recourse for ever returning- they’re banned for life. This happens to many people who grow up in the U.S, and consider themselves American.

5. The adoption of immigrant children has been the focus of your books. In one article, you cite that around 5,100 children of undocumented immigrants were in state care, and in many instances, had been cut off completely from communicating with their families. One-fifth of foster care children are subsequently adopted. What can you tell us about the current state of foster care for immigrant children?

Finding Fernanda and the related special “Perilous Journey” focused on unraveling one Guatemalan organized crime network that was working with American companies to facilitate the international adoptions of Guatemalan children to the United States. That’s completely different than the question you raise about undocumented immigrant children, though there is some overlap.

My friend and colleague, reporter Seth Freed Wessler, is the author of the authoritative report, “Shattered Families,” which digs into the complicated intersection of child welfare and current U.S. immigration policy. His findings and statistics are based on years of research, and today in 2014, they’re actually getting old.

No one has yet to update them; this kind of endeavor takes an investment of time and money. A lot of news outlets just can’t afford to do that kind of serious investigative work.

 

6. What is an aspect of the violence in Mexico that you feel isn’t covered enough?

 I would argue that it’s not “violence in Mexico,” per se. The drug war isn’t a Mexican issue, it’s a shared responsibility. That’s nothing new.

I do think it’s always important to pay attention to discrepancies in crime reporting, especially contradictions between statistics from various government agencies and officials. There’s a lot of sugary spin (remember Mexico’s forecasted GDP growth last year?) and it’s easy for foreign reporters to devour it.

But in general, I don’t think the entire country of Mexico is covered enough! Then again, I adore mi hermosa patria adoptiva and I’m totally biased. So shoot, take my border reporting with a grain of salt, or ten. I love Mexico.

¡Y Tijuana rifa!

Q & A with Fronteras Desk Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe

Mónica Ortiz Uribe is a native of El Paso, Texas, where she works as a reporter for the public radio network Fronteras. She covers a range of topics from politics, to industry and environment in New Mexico, west Texas and northern Mexico. Previously she freelanced for National Public Radio on the drug-related violence in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Her first reporter gig was for the Waco Tribune Herald in Waco, Texas. Mónica graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a degree in history. Follow her at @MOrtizUribe

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In all your years covering the border, is there any story that stands out to you?

The story of the disappeared young women of Ciudad Juárez. These are young women who vanished without a trace during the height of drug violence in the city. They lived in poor neighborhoods and rode the bus to school or to work. One day they didn’t come home. They left devastated families behind whose lives were transformed. Unsatisfied with the police’s response, the families tried doing their own investigations. As of today none of the women I tracked have been found and the families still have no answers.

What has been the most difficult border-related story to write about? Why?

The same story as above. It’s difficult because there is no resolution, no answers, no rest. The families’ lives can never be the same.

In a recent story, you mentioned that apprehensions have risen 74 percent since last year. With so much controversy surrounding the border, what changes have you noticed in the last year?

I can say that the hot spot on the border now is south Texas. I visited that region last year and saw for myself the incredible amount of traffic coming across. Border Patrol is overwhelmed. At night their radios are non-stop. I witnessed two apprehensions. One woman was traveling alone from Guatemala with two toddlers, she was coming to meet her husband in the United States.  The other was a Mexican teenager and his 70-something year-old grandfather. It’s a humanitarian crisis, people are trying to come across every single day. When they are caught they need to be processed, fed, housed, etc. The federal government has only recently acknowledged their inability to keep up.

What do you wish more people knew about the border?

There is so much. I think we all need to reconsider how we spend our tax dollars on the border. The amount of money we spend on border enforcement is more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. And still we can’t keep up. Meanwhile legal traffic coming across the border is bottle necked. Our immigration system is backed up beyond a decade in some cases. It will take some bold thinking and brave decisions to change the status quo.

Dramatic Surge in the Arrival of Unaccompanied Children Has Deep Roots and No Simple Solutions

This is the single best explanation of the complex issues involved with the increase in unaccompanied minor children in migration. It includes data and a discussion of push and pull factors and the convergence of factors relating to the current situation. The explanation of the differing treatment of Mexican vs. Central American minors is the best I have seen, as is the explanation of the US laws pertaining to these groups. I really encourage everyone to read it: http://migrationpolicy.org/article/dramatic-surge-arrival-unaccompanied-children-has-deep-roots-and-no-simple-solutions 

Also below is a brief report from Colorlines: http://colorlines.com/archives/2014/06/us_has_no_plans_for_leniency_with_unaccompanied_migrant_children.html

 

Immigrant Surge Sheds Light on Dangers of Broken Policy

Sylvia Longmire is a former Air Force officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, where she specialized in counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection analysis. After being medically retired in 2005,  Longmire worked for four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Threat Assessment Center, providing daily situational awareness to senior state government officials on southwest border violence and Mexico’s drug war. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and she is an award-winning columnist for Homeland Security Today magazine and contributing editor for Breitbart Texas.  Longmire was a guest expert on The History Channel’s “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” and has consulted for the producers of National Geographic Channel’s Border Wars and Drugs, Inc. series.  Her first book, Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and she has written for numerous peer-reviewed journals and online publications. Her newest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer was published in April 2014. For more, check out her website.

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On the morning of June 18, 2014, roughly two dozen reporters gathered outside a Nogales warehouse and waited to be escorted inside by Border Patrol agents. Many were anxious; it was the first time members of the media would be allowed to witness firsthand the hundreds of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) being detained by the agency after being apprehended in south Texas.

Since October 2013, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, ranging in age from infant to 17 years old, in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. The vast majority of these children are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and they are all anxious to be reunited with family members in the United States. For some of them, the journey has been incredibly difficult—paying coyotes thousands of dollars in smuggling fees, eating and sleeping little, and navigating the gang- and cartel-infested territories in eastern Mexico. For some, the goal is to cross the border undetected and reach various destinations across the country.

But others are traveling right to the border and turning themselves in to agents under the impression—fueled by rumors at home—that they will soon be released. In many cases, they’re right.

Undocumented immigrants from Central America get treated differently by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because it’s logistically more difficult to repatriate them. Also, UACs from Central America get treated differently than adults. By law, they have to be processed and handed over to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which will try to reunite them with a family member or legal in the US as quickly as possible. Generally, the legal status of the person a UAC is released to does not impact the transfer of the child. UACs without a family member in the US get placed into the ORR’s network of shelters and group homes—essentially foster care—while they go through removal proceedings.

The reporters went into that Nogales warehouse hoping to get some answers about what President Obama and others have termed a “humanitarian crisis” on the border. For two weeks, they have been seeing photos—many of them leaked by Border Patrol agents—of the crowded conditions inside, and the experience was jarring for many. Several reporters expressed their thoughts on their Twitter feeds, describing the minors’ moods as ranging from bored to sad to outright distraught. UACs are only supposed to be detained for a maximum of 72 hours before being transferred to ORR custody, but the huge influx of minors in such a short period of time have made it logistically impossible for that to happen.

Given that this is a crisis that will not be ending or get resolved soon, two questions persist: What caused this huge influx, and how can it be controlled? Both questions are naturally fraught with political complications. Many on the right point the finger at lax enforcement of immigration policies by the Obama administration and a failure to secure the border. Many on the left fully blame the deteriorating security and economic conditions in Central America, which have led to the rise in control of many parts of those countries by gangs and drug cartels.

The truth is not always that simple, and in this case, it’s a combination of both of those factors—a sort of push-pull effect. Violence and a lack of economic and educational opportunities drive young people out of Central America by the thousands. But word has gotten around the region—in some cases, through television announcements—that many UACs, and even adults, are being released after processing and just being told to show up for their immigration hearing. Most will not. In addition, those with family members already in the US will be provided with bus fare to be reunited with them anywhere in the country. To say that word of mouth about these actions don’t have a “pull” effect is naïve and ignorant of the power rumors can have in Central America.

As far as controlling the push and pull factors, the latter is much easier than the former. Even though the US government has been providing counterdrug and economic development assistance to Central America for some time, security has not improved and economic development can be difficult to measure. One also has to add in the fact that US drug demand, which fuels the activities of cartels and the gangs they employ, is not diminishing, and corruption within governments and police forces in these countries is rampant.

The only thing left is to find a way to manage the pull factor—the controversial issue known as comprehensive immigration reform. The increase in border enforcement measures that the US government can reasonably sustain will be insufficient to stop determined migrants fleeing violence and poverty, as difficult a pill that may be for some to swallow. Changing immigration laws in a way that doesn’t grant automatic amnesty, but preserves the integrity of our justice system, is entirely possible. However, US politicians lack the political will to reach some sort of compromise that allows non-criminal “economic migrants” to contribute to the US economy and travel freely—and safely—between their home country and the US.

There is no simple answer, but there is also not one single acceptable answer. There is a halfway point between granting full amnesty to all undocumented immigrants and walling off the border while deporting every single one. A meaningful change at the legislative level and a very visible change at the border enforcement level will help spread an accurate message to desperate Central Americans—and the smugglers who exploit them—that although the US border isn’t open for business, a new way of following practical and effective rules is the best way to reach the safety of the United States.