By Nicholas Kristof, New York Times
TAPACHULA, Mexico — Elena was 11 years old when a gang member in her home country, Honduras, told her to be his girlfriend.
“I had to say yes,” Elena, now 14, explained. “If I had said no, they would have killed my entire family.”
Elena knew the risks because one of her friends, Jenesis, was also asked to be a gang member’s girlfriend, and declined. Elena happened to see the aftermath, as Jenesis staggered naked and bleeding away from gang members.
“She had been raped and shot in the stomach,” Elena recalled in the blank tone of a child who has seen far too much. She paused and then added: “We don’t know if she survived. Someone said she died at the hospital.”
As for Elena, she said her duties as a gang member’s girlfriend entailed working as a drug courier and a lookout, as well as intimacies that she didn’t want to discuss. At this point in our conversation, her mother and younger sister began crying.
After years of such brutality, Elena and her family finally fled this year when the gang threatened to kill them so as to seize their home.
“I just want to keep my children safe,” the mother, Brenda, 39, explained, speaking here where they are staying near the Guatemalan border.
Yet they aren’t safe, in part because of a policy backed by President Barack Obama and the Mexican authorities to return vast numbers of desperate refugees to the countries from which they fled. In the last five years, the United States and Mexico have returned 800,000 refugees to Central America, including 40,000 children.
If other countries were forcibly returning people to their deaths, we would …