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Pulitzer-winning expert on child refugee crisis kicks off yearlong look at immigration

By Tom Scherberger
Published August 27, 2014
Categories: Academics

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Sonia Nazario will speak at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 11, in Fox Hall at Eckerd College. The event is free and open to the public.

Nazario will discuss her best-selling bookEnrique’s Journey and the ongoing refugee crisis along the U.S./Mexico border involving tens of thousands of Central American children fleeing violent drug gangs.

During her appearance at Eckerd, Nazario will be joined by Lourdes Flores, the mother of Enrique, the subject of her book. It will be their first joint public lecture.

Enrique’s Journey is the true story of a Honduran boy who embarks alone on a perilous quest to find his mother, who left him 11 years earlier to find work in the U.S.

Based on the Los Angeles Times series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, the George Polk Award for International Reporting and the Grand Prize of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, Enrique’s Journey puts a human face on the debate about immigration in the United States. The book won the 2011 Williams College Book Award Program and has been translated into eight languages. It was the required summer reading selection for all Eckerd freshmen and seniors.

Nazario, who retraced Enrique’s path atop freight trains bound for the U.S., has become an outspoken advocate for Central American children seeking refuge from the violence of drug gangs back home.

She has testified before a Senate committee and has been quoted widely, from the New York Times to National Public Radio to CNN and the Daily Show.

While the refugee crisis has receded from the headlines in recent weeks, it is far from resolved. In a richly reported piece for the New York Times in July, A Refugee Crisis, Not an Immigration Crisis, Nazario made the case for dealing humanely with these undocumented child immigrants.

“It would be a disgrace if this wealthy nation turned its back on the 52,000 children who have arrived since October, many of them legitimate refugees,’’ Nazario wrote. “This is not how a great nation treats children.”

Public opinion supports Nazario’s position. “Democrats (80 percent), independents (69 percent) and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway,” the Washington Post reported, based on a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Nazario returned to Honduras this year and was shocked by what she discovered. “I last went to Nueva Suyapa in 2003, to write about another boy, Luis Enrique Motiño Pineda, who had grown up there and left to find his mother in the United States,’’ she wrote in the New York Times. “Children from Central America have been making that journey, often without their parents, for two decades. But lately something has changed, and the predictable flow has turned into an exodus.

“Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up. Around a quarter come from Honduras—more than from anywhere else. Children still leave Honduras to reunite with a parent, or for better educational and economic opportunities. But, as I learned when I returned to Nueva Suyapa…a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis.”

The Sept. 11 appearance by Nazario and Flores kicks off a series of events at Eckerd College focused on immigration issues, titled “Between Worlds: Immigration, Identity and Globalization.” The events include talks by U.S. Rep. David Jolly, the consul to Mexico in Orlando, and Jose Godinez-Samperio, an undocumented immigrant whose legal fight to practice law in Florida led to a change in state law.

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