At age 16, when most kids in the United States are halfway through high school, Amelia Domingo found herself working on chicken processing machines in this farm town and deep in debt to loan sharks in her native Guatemala.
After borrowing $10,000 for smugglers to get her through Mexico, Amelia crossed into Arizona last February and turned herself over to immigration officials. They led her, she said, from a crowded border facility to a shelter for unaccompanied minors. After about a month, officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees shelters for migrant children, released her to a sister here in Alabama.
Amelia is part of a current spike in migration by minors from Central America to the United States, as young people risk the treacherous trek northward in hopes they can find a better life for themselves and the means to help their families back home. “There’s almost no opportunity,” Amelia said, describing the lack of prospects for youths in her highland village in western Guatemala. “Most people my age have to leave.”
A spokesperson at the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, said the agency can’t comment on any individual migrant’s case.
At Amelia’s request, Reuters agreed not to identify her hometown, the chicken plant where she now works, or the exact job she performs there. The news agency also is not disclosing her full name or that of her adult sister, Rosa, with whom she now lives in Enterprise.
Both sisters work in the Alabama town, using false identities and fake dates of birth obtained for them by illegal brokers who forge or otherwise secure such documentation for undocumented migrants. With those credentials, they got jobs through staffing agencies of the type that help poultry plants here, like industries elsewhere across the United States, recruit staff and fulfill paperwork meant to ensure that employers comply with state and federal regulations.
An influx of minors like Amelia to Enterprise and surrounding Coffee County last year led at least three different federal agencies to investigate whether immigration or labor laws are being violated, people familiar with the investigations told Reuters. Among other queries, these people said, authorities have sought to determine if any of the migrants in the area have been victims of human trafficking. The investigations, some details of which were reported by Bloomberg Law last year, haven’t yet led to any charges, these people said.
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