The border crisis remained firmly in the spotlight this weekend, with congressional leaders debating how to control the soaring numbers of Central American immigrants crossing into the United States illegally, and the burial in Guatemala of a 15-year-old boy who died while attempting the trip here.
The death of the boy, Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez, became a symbol of the perils facing children attempting to illegally cross into the United States. He was buried in his hometown Saturday, amid prayers and tears from his family.
The family said Gilberto had hoped to find work to pay for medicine his ailing mother needs. Workers in the mountains of northern Guatemala earn about $3.50 a day, said his uncle, Catarino Ramos.
Poverty is one of several so-called “pull factors” that experts say compels many of the Central American immigrants to risk the dangerous trip to the United States. The others are growing gang violence, lack of educational and economic opportunities, and the impression some Central Americans have that if they can just make it across the border, they will be able to remain in the United States.
Tens of thousands of immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have crossed the border illegally since last October. Those countries also account for most of the more than 57,000 unaccompanied kids who've arrived in the same period.
"He left because of poverty, because he wanted to help buy his mother's medicine," Catarino Ramos said.
On Sunday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency funding request – made last week -- to deal with the unaccompanied minors. He said the request did not adequately address the need to bolster border security.
Perry, a Republican, argued for boosting National Guard troops on the border as a better solution and a better deterrent for others considering coming illegally.
“They need to be right on the river,” Perry said on Fox News Sunday. “They need to be there as a show of force because that’s the message that gets sent back very quickly back to Central America.”
Others, however, wants more resources and attention put towards helping as many of the children stay in the United States who otherwise would face danger if they return to their homelands.
Neighbors in this mountain village filled the small home where the boy grew up, turning the room where he slept on the floor into a space to mourn over his gray and silver coffin.
A white bow hung on the front door in a sign of mourning. Inside the humble concrete home, women cried and prayed while men waited to carry Gilberto's body to the hilltop cemetery overlooking the village. Amid highland flowers and candles sat a photograph of the boy.
"Ay, my son, now I won't see you again," his mother, Cipriana Juarez, shouted between tears.
The boy's decomposed body was discovered on June 15 in the Rio Grande Valley, not far inside Texas from the border with Mexico. Around his neck was a rosary he had received as a gift for his first communion as a Roman Catholic. Scribbled inside his belt buckle was the phone number of an older brother in Chicago he had hoped to reach.
He apparently got lost on his way north and likely died from exposure in hot, dry brush country of South Texas. An autopsy did not find signs of trauma. His body was less than a mile from a nearby home.
Gilberto's death highlighted the hardships that afflict young migrants. The U.S. government is searching for ways to deal with record numbers of unaccompanied children who are sneaking into the country, fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.
Now, the family will have to find a way to repay the $2,500 loan they took out, mortgaging their home, to pay for Gilberto's journey.
"Here, only sadness will remain," said the boy's father, Francisco Ramos,
The Associated Press contributed to this report.