SAN JOSE LAS FLORES, Guatemala – A 15-year-old Guatemalan migrant was buried in his hometown Saturday, nearly a month after he became a symbol of the perils facing unaccompanied children who have been flooding illegally into the U.S.
Residents of Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez’s mountain hometown of San Jose de las Flores filled the house where he grew up to pay respects to the boy lying in a gray and silver coffin beside an altar filled with highland flowers and candles.
A monja blanca orchid, the national flower of Guatemala, was placed on the front door in a sign of mourning. Women prayed inside the house while men waited outside to carry Ramos Juarez’s body to the mountaintop cemetery overlooking his village.
“Here, only sadness will remain,” said the boy’s father, Francisco Ramos.
The discovery of the boy’s decomposed body in the Rio Grande Valley on June 15 highlighted the hardships that afflict young migrants as the U.S. government searches for ways to deal with record numbers of children from Central America who are sneaking into the country.
Gilberto was found with a rosary that his mother gave him still around his neck and a brother’s Chicago phone number scribbled on the inside of his belt buckle.
The body was less than a mile from the nearest U.S. home. He apparently got lost on his way north and likely died from exposure. An autopsy did not find signs of trauma.
His father said that the family had borrowed the $2,500 the boy needed to make the trip north and that they still owe the money.
The boy’s uncle, Catarino Ramos, said workers make about $3.50 for a day’s work where they live in the mountains of northern Guatemala.
“He left because of poverty, because he wanted to help buy his mother’s medicine,” Catarino Ramos said.