As if the Guide to Sneaking Into the United States wasn't enough:
Guatemala consulate planned for Phoenix
Arizona is now main entry point
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 10, 2005 12:00 AM
Arizona is now the main entry point for Guatemalans coming to the United States illegally, so the Guatemalan government plans to open a consulate this year in Phoenix.
Though the vast majority of illegal crossers still come from Mexico, an increasing number are coming from Central America because of a lack of jobs, and continued economic and political instability following years of civil strife in several countries, including Guatemala.
"The major reason for opening a consulate is to help the people who are crossing the border, who are getting hurt or die crossing the border," said Patricia Meigham, a vice consul of Guatemala based in Los Angeles.
They cross Mexico's southern border, then make their way by foot, bus and train, to the United States.
The journey can be dangerous. And deadly.
Last year, 25 undocumented immigrants from Guatemala died in the Arizona desert after crossing the border into the United States illegally, Meigham said. The year before, five undocumented immigrants from Guatemala died in Arizona, she said.
Every month, Meigham interviews about 300 Guatemalans being held at a federal detention center in Florence awaiting deportation after being arrested by U. S. Border Patrol agents.
The 2000 census counted 7,150 Guatemalans living in Arizona, with 5,949 in Maricopa County. But Meigham puts the number at about 28,000, noting that most go uncounted because the majority are undocumented.
Members of the Arizona Guatemalan Committee estimate there are as many as 35,000 to 40,000 Guatemalans in Arizona. The group is made up of local Guatemalans who lobbied the Guatemalan government to open a consulate in Phoenix.
"When I came to Phoenix, I didn't know anyone from Guatemala. I thought I was the only one," said Yuvixa Morazan Koren, 39, the group's president, one of several Guatemalans who have established successful businesses in Arizona. Morazan, who now encounters other Guatemalans in Phoenix often, moved to Phoenix in 1991 and owns the 100-car Aguilas Radio Taxi company in Phoenix.
Some experts question Guatemala's motive for opening a consulate in Phoenix, and two more in other U.S. cities.
Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a think tank in Washington, D.C., said the Guatemalan government is expanding the number of consulates in the United States in anticipation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, not just to serve its citizens in the United States. Congress is expected to approve the trade pact this year, removing trade barriers between the United States and several Central American countries, among them Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.
"My hunch is what justifies them spending substantial amounts of money to establish new consulates is to facilitate the augmented commercial interaction between the United States and Guatemala that will come out of CAFTA," Birns said.
Historically, Birns added, the Guatemalan government has shown little regard for those "at the lowest rungs of the ladder," who tend to be the most likely to leave the country in search of better opportunities in the United States.
Following a brutal and repressive campaign to suppress a communist uprising, the Guatemalan government in 1996 signed a peace agreement with leftist guerrillas, ending a 36-year civil war that killed 100,000 people and created 1 million refugees.
During the 1980s, Guatemalans fleeing the war flooded the United States, and large numbers settled in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Florida.
Although the war is officially over, thousands of Guatemalans continue to flee the economic and political instability that remains. The newer arrivals have followed networks created by Guatemalans that came in the 1980s, and are expanding to other parts of the United States. The majority are undocumented immigrants, large numbers of who entered the country illegally through Arizona, where many have chosen to remain.
"The big event in Latin American migration picture is the diffusion to all parts of the United States," Birns said.
The Guatemalan government is opening consulates in Phoenix, Atlanta and Providence, R.I., and closing its consulate in Denver, bringing to 10 the number of Guatemalan consulates in the United States, including the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington, D.C.
"I think the number of people coming here is increasingly steadily year by year and the main reason is unequal access to opportunities" in Guatemala, said Guillermo Castillo, Guatemala's ambassador to the United States.
He said the opening date and location of Guatemala's new consulate in Phoenix could be announced today. It will serve Guatemalans in Arizona and New Mexico, he said.
Castillo estimated between 1.2 million and 1.5 million people from Guatemala live in the United States. That is more than twice as many as the 480,665 Guatemalans counted by the 2000 census.
Until now, Guatemalans in Arizona had to travel to the Guatemalan consulate in Los Angeles if they wanted to apply for passports or Guatemalan ID cards, which are popular with undocumented immigrants who have no other form of identification, said Otto Ruano, 32, a member of the Arizona Guatemalan Committee.
Or they had to wait for the Guatemalan consulate to send its "mobile consulate" to Phoenix, which it does twice a year.
The majority of the Guatemalans living in Arizona are employed in the construction, restaurant and hotel industries, said Ruano, who came from Guatemala in 1992 and now works as an account executive at Radio Campesina, a Spanish-language radio station in Phoenix.
Many have applied for political asylum in the United States. But they have a much harder time gaining political asylum here now since the end of the civil war in Guatemala.
In Guatemala, Harland Aguirre, 43, was a member of the army for nine years. He settled in Phoenix in 1990 and now works as a kitchen supervisor at Durant's restaurant.
He said he fled Guatemala with his wife and two young children after receiving several letters from guerrilla groups threatening to kill him or members of his family because of his participation in the army during the war, which killed 100,000 people. He fears for his life if he returns to Guatemala.
The U.S. government granted him a work permit while his application for political asylum is pending, Aguirre said.
Recently, Aguirre met another man from Guatemala at a party in Phoenix. During their conversation, Aguirre revealed he had served in the army. The other man also fought in the war, but on the other side, as a guerrilla.
"We shook hands and agreed what happened then was now in the past," Aguirre said.