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Partially Deaf Boy Was One of Hundreds of Waifs on Juarez Streets

June 29, 1988

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) _ The partially deaf boy whose identity puzzled authorities for months until his mother arrived to claim him was just one of hundreds of waifs who fill the streets of this border city.

And more and more of these young beggars are finding their way across the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas, where law enforcement officials discussed the issue at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Sometimes authorities in Juarez take the street urchins to the Integrated Family Development center, the federal child-welfare agency, for medical care and education.

That’s what happened to Jose de Jesus Garcia Aguilera, who was known as Sabath before he was reunited Tuesday with his mother after eight months apart.

But hundreds of other Mexican children remain abused or abandoned, and little can be done because there is not enough money in the financially strapped country, said Olivia Espinosa Bermudez, director of the Integrated Family Development office in Juarez.

The agency, known by its Spanish acronym as DIF, can take care of about 80 children at its shelter in central Juarez, Mrs. Bermudez said Wednesday. It’s filled nearly to capacity.

″I know there are more, but we cannot afford to pay the necessary attention to them,″ she said. ″We just cannot handle more than that.″

DIF tries to find children’s parents, and in cases where they are unfit, it tries to find foster parents. It also runs a school, provides medical care, and encourages the older children to enroll in technical school.

Downtown Juarez and the international bridges are full of young panhandlers, some barely old enough to walk. Older children sometimes play in pathetic makeshift brass bands to attract donors’ attention; teen-agers with squeegees wash windshields for pocket change.

Some adult beggars rent children for $1 a day to elicit more sympathy from passers-by, deputy Border Patrol chief Gus de la Vina told the El Paso council meeting.

El Paso Police Chief John Scagno told the council that his officers rounded up 27 beggars on Saturday. He said all of them were from Mexico and all were back on El Paso’s streets the next day.

Mrs. Bermudez said some of the youngsters picked up are runaways who don’t want to go home.

That’s apparently not the case with 9-yar-old Jesus, whose mother, Micaela Aguilera de Garcia of the Gulf Coast port of Tampico, arrived Tuesday in Juarez to claim her boy. Jesus, nicknamed Chuy, seemed eager to go home.

Chuy ran away last October and was picked up Nov. 7 near downtown Juarez. For months, authorities on both sides of the border tried to find out the boy’s identity and origins. The task was frustrating because Chuy can speak only a few words and communicates mostly through gestures and pictures.

No one knows why Chuy chose to run away to Juarez, but many people emigrate to the city of 1.1 million because of the relative wealth of northern Mexico and the lure of jobs in the United States, Mrs. Bermudez said.

She said DIF and the Texas Department of Human Services signed a pact last February in which each side pledged to help the other in cases where parents and children become separated across the border.

DIF officials plan to visit the home of Ms. Aguilera, where she lives in a one-room house with her mother and four other children, Mrs. Bermudez said. Then they will report about the conditions to their superiors in Ciudad Victoria, capital of Tamaulipas state. Chuy might attend a DIF-run school in Victoria, where he could learn to speak and use sign language, she said.

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