Santa Rosa De Lima, Guatemala – As President Trump continues to battle what he describes as a do nothing congress for a solution to fix the ongoing border crisis, cartels and human trafficking organizations are taking advantage of the situation. They are using the U.S. laws to perpetuate illegal immigration, promising potential migrants guaranteed access to the U.S. from Guatemala where they say they will find work, as long as they claim asylum.

The evidence is ripe. The roads are barren, stores and homes are empty and those left behind say they are living in “with ghosts.” The residents of Santa Rosa De Lima, Guatemala spoke to on a recent trip to the region. Those remaining in the town, discussed living in poverty, corruption within their government, loss of their community and the hopelessness that drives them from their homeland.

The Loopholes

They say the human traffickers are recruiting residents daily. These traffickers are instructing the potential migrants on what to say and what to do in order to subvert the U.S. system to qualify for asylum.

It is these loopholes that are part of the problem that has plagued both the United States and Central America, say U.S. Officials. It is a never ending battle that has exacerbated an already dangerous humanitarian and national security crisis.

““People are trying to get caught,” said Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham . “They’re not avoiding getting caught, so when we talk about building a wall as Republicans, that makes sense to stop illegal entry into the country – try to direct people into the areas where we have a better chance of apprehending them.”

Graham spoke before the Senate last week, announcing his new plan and saying under the current law, which releases illegal alien family units with a minor child after 20 days needs to be changed.

“We don’t have enough detention bed space,” he said. “We release the entire family after 20 days. So word is out on the street in Central America that if you bring a minor child with you, your chance of being deported goes to almost zero. Your hearing date is years away, and we release you inside the country, and that’s the goal of coming.”

He argued that the law should be changed to allow people from Central America to apply for asylum from their own countries through the “American consulate or embassy in your home country. We’re gonna try to set up a facility in Mexico. No more asylum claims at the U.S. border if you’re from Central America.”

The Cost of Trafficking

In Guatemala the cost of being trafficked across the Mexican border can exceed $11,000 dollars. It’s almost impossible to accumulate the money in these poverty stricken areas so many potential illegal migrants finance the majority of their trip through the trafficking organizations, putting them at extraordinary risk from these nefarious cartels.

Usually, coyotes, a term used to describe the traffickers, take roughly 50 percent in advance for smuggling the illegals and the threat to the women and children is grave: ranging from inhumane conditions, abuse, rape and sexual slavery.

As for the residents left behind their abandoned communities, sitting in the shadow of an active volcano, are just remnants of what they once were.

Residents in Santa Rosa, Guatemala say a majority of the original inhabitants of their town have fled to the United States. They are living with ghosts, they say. (photo:

Ghost Stories

The colorful “Colonia” style homes sit empty or rented to strangers from other villages in the mountains. Last year, the coffee fields near Santa Rosa were damaged from a disease that left most of the crops barren making work limited and money scarce. The poverty is excruciating, leaving those behind feeling hopeless, they say.

“The coyotes tell the people what to say, what to do, it’s dangerous and they charge so much more now than before,” said Carlos Bran, who paid roughly $400 to be trafficked to California 12 years ago by a trafficking organization. His half brother, Jose Manuel, worked on the other side of town, at a furniture repair shop that hadn’t seen business in months.

“Now there are people pretending to be coyotes, other criminals, who lie to the people and steal their money leaving them in a desert to die or in Mexico abandoned and in danger,” said Bran, who was deported from California several years ago because of his numerous drunk driving offenses.

These Guatemalan villages are the visible ghosts of the border crisis.

The numbers of those fleeing from Guatemala are stark. DHS officials estimated last week that over one percent of the populations of both Guatemala and Honduras have crossed the border illegally since September. More shocking, they say, is that three percent of the population of one Guatemalan county has crossed into the U.S. border illegally.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan told the 49th Washington Conference of the Americas last week that “the current migration flows, especially of vulnerable families and children, from Central America through Mexico, to remote areas all along the U.S. border, represent both a security and humanitarian crisis. The situation is not sustainable.”

Guatemalan government officials expressed their concerns over the same issue telling this week in several meetings in Guatemala City, that Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is closely working with the U.S. with regard to the crisis.  Guatemalan law enforcement, it’s intelligence agency and the Guatemalan Defense Ministry are also working with U.S. counterparts to target human trafficking and narco-organizations. However, it’s the laws in the United States, as well, and inability to stop the flow of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants that has exacerbated the crisis.

Still, residents say corruption in the Guatemalan government, no system to account for where the tens of millions of dollars in non-governmental funding go and Guatemalan security and Defense forces left with little resources to combat narco-traffickers compounds the already escalating crisis.

“We have nothing and no one cares about us,” said a woman, who is an Indigenous Mayan. “We live in poverty and do what we can to survive.” The woman says her name is Maria and she lives with her daughter-in-laws and grandchildren in a dilapidated home that costs her $600 Guatemalan Quetzals, which is roughly $78 a month.

One grandchild, who was being rocked by his mother in a hammock made out of dirty towels, was born nearly a month early. She covered him with a thin sheet to keep the dozens of flies away from the three month old babies face.

“He had complications and the family cannot afford the medication to keep him healthy,” the grandmother said.

Shocking DHS Statistics Regarding Guatemala 

Santa Rosa fits the DHS statistics perfectly. After a nearly two-hour ride up a windy mountain road from the capital the sound of salsa music greeted our SUV as it pulled along side one of the main roads. The music wafted from a small make-shift cafe that was empty of both customers and workers.

No cars. Few people. Two dogs. It was for the most part a ghost town.

Jose Manuel and Marcos Fidel were sitting in front of an empty storefront. They advertised furniture repair and their lone sewing machine in the open front story told a tale of a different time. They weren’t expecting any customers. Still they sat there. Fidel was shirtless, sweating in the high humidity and complained that the poverty has left them hopeless. He also noted that with so many people gone to America there is a lot of small town jealousy and fighting for business. What was once a close town with caring neighbors has turned into a backbiting home where people just struggle to survive.

“I can say roughly 60 percent of this town is gone,” said Jose Manuel, who had spent his day sitting along side the curb in front of furniture repair shop.

“It seems everyone has left for the United States,” Manuel added. “This is a quiet, calm town but there is no economy, no work and the coyotes are telling people that there is work for them in America. They tell the people what they need to do to leave but it comes with a price.”

Several police officials peaked out from the stations door. They sat around talking, as a large fan blew on the officers who were sheltered from the heat. The station sat alongside the road, which was lined with color coded buildings in bright green, orange, yellow and red.

“The business owners all left,” said Fidel, pointing at the small orange and green buildings. “The family that owned the green buildings on this street left me in charge of their repair shop and their home is empty.”

The “people just don’t know, they only know what the coyotes and others say” 

Bran rode his bike down a small Calle (street) on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. His skin was lined with age, alcohol abuse, and all the signs that life has been rough.

His half brother, Jose Manuel, was already heading back to the empty furniture repair shop to close up. It would be another day like every other day, Manuel laughed “other than a reporter showing up.”

He said the people who have fled his area of Santa Rosa only know what the coyotes and volunteers with the nonprofits that come to his village tell them.

“They say there is work in America for those who can make the journey, they say to the people that once you get to the border you can find a job and the Americans will let you in,” said Manuel. “That’s what’s happening, isn’t it? Once they leave, most of them never come back.”

NOTE: Sara A. Carter is a visiting fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and this trip  to Guatemala was done in conjunction with the organization to better understand the root cause of the U.S. immigration crisis.