Many people assume that most undocumented immigrants are men, coming to the U.S. to find work.
In fact, 51 percent of undocumented immigrants in the country today are women, many of them single mothers, and their children — in most cases, not all their children.
"The women I interview told me 'I come here to the U.S. and I take care of other people's children, I play with that boy, I feed him, I love him. But I couldn't be there to see my son take his first steps,'" said Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Sonia Nazario during a talk on immigration March 1 at the University of Minnesota, which aired recently on MPR News.
These women usually plan to stay in the U.S. only a year or two before either going back to their home country, or smuggling their children to live with them here, said Nazario.
However, with the cost of living, the hefty price of smuggling their children across borders, along with the money they send to family back home means separations usually last five or 10 years, she said.
"And these kids, well, they get desperate to see their mamas again. So, they get this idea 'if she's not going to send for me, or come back to me, I am going to go and find her,'" she said.
While writing about this mass of traveling children, Nazario met a young Honduran boy named Enrique, whose mother left for America when he was 5 years old.
As a teenager, Enrique set out to find her, traveling through Mexico by clinging to freight trains traveling north, with nothing but a slip of paper with her phone number on it.
Most of the children attempting this journey are hunted by those trying to rob, rape, beat and kill them, Nazario said.
"Most of them, something really bad happens to them in Mexico and they either end up being deported or defeated by this experience in their home countries," she said.
Nazario retraced Enrique's travels in her book "Enrique's Journey," — saying much of the research crushed her faith in humanity. But some people along the way helped to restore it.
Sonia Nazario spoke at an event sponsored by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program, which is directed by Barbara Frey, and by the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association.
To listen to her full speech, click the audio player above.
MPR News presents offers speeches, documentaries and debates — airing weekdays from noon to 1 p.m.