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Childen cross U S border solo as security rises

Written by: Staff
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NOGALES, Mexico, Dec 4 (Reuters) Slipping into the United States, eight-year-old Adrian Ramirez began a three-day trek across the cactus-studded wastes with just a small bag of tortillas and one large hope keeping him going.

''I wanted to spend Christmas with my father in New York, but they caught us,'' he said, perching on a chair at a center for child migrants in this bustling city on the Arizona border.

Picked up and swiftly repatriated by the U S Border Patrol, the Triqui Indian from Mexico's poor Oaxaca state is one of a growing number of children trying to cross the border into the United States without their parents.

Since January, Mexican authorities say some 6,800 youngsters have been repatriated to northern Sonora state after crossing into southern Arizona, a rise of 20 per cent over the same period last year.

They say most are seeking to join moms and dads who already live stateside but who are increasingly reluctant to head back to Mexico to pick up their children because of tighter security along the 3,200-km line.

''The parents know that they can't come back because of increased security,'' said Humberto Valdes, of Mexico's family welfare agency in the northern state of Sonora.

''Now they are sending for their children to come and join them ... and they obviously don't know the risks they are exposing them to.'' (THRIVING TRADE) Adrian set out with a 16-year-old cousin on an improvised journey through deserts where security has been increasingly tightened in recent months, after President George W Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in June.

The majority are taken north by professional guides or ''coyotes,'' in a booming child smuggling trade where parents pay hefty fees of 3,000 dollars to 5,000 dollars to be reunited with their children -- twice the amount charged for adults -- welfare workers say.

''They treat them like merchandise, and it's very profitable,'' Valdes told Reuters.

For the children, many of whom have a limited sense of the world they are moving through, the journey to U S cities sometimes thousands of miles away, is a frightening and bewildering experience.

''I don't know the name of the city my mother lives in in the United States, and I didn't know the men who came to my grandmother's house to collect me,'' said Blanca Isela Tejada, a tiny 13 year old from Sonora.

MORE REUTERS LL BS1341

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