About a year ago, I spoke with a friend who works as an immigration attorney and focuses on assisting young people who have migrated alone to the US from Central America. He told me about the practice in Guatemala of people signing away their homes as collateral on loans to pay a human smuggler to come to the US. The people get three attempts at crossing the border, and then they must pay back the loan. For many who don’t make it to the US, this means the threat of losing one’s home and the reality of struggling to pay back the loan in a country where most people work in the informal economy and earn a few hundred dollars a month.
The Fund for Investigative Journalism very generously accepted my request for support to travel to Guatemala and do this reporting. It would not have been possible otherwise. I also owe a huge debt to Álvaro Caballeros, who provided data and insight, Julia Gonzaléz, and Rachael Bale, who offered excellent tips on conducting my investigation and shaping the stories that emerged. Two printed reports came out of my time in Guatemala, one for Al Jazeera English, and another for Al Jazeera America. I´m also working on a radio piece for Making Contact.