The United States is overhauling how it handles illegal migrants after a young boy and girl, both from Guatemala, died while in US custody in December 2018. Their deaths coincided with a spike in the number of young migrant families apprehended at the border. Many of them come from Guatemala. 


To find out what is driving young families to the US, the BBC's reporter Patricia Sulbarán and photojournalist Ed Ram went back to the remote Guatemalan indigenous communities of one of those children, Felipe Gomez Alonzo.





Documentary film shot, produced and directed for BBC World News available here.


Mobile photography story shot and produced for BBC Mundo available here.

Eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died in US custody on 24 December 2018 after crossing the border from Mexico.

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Filipe's mother Catarina Alonzo says Felipe  and his father left to provide a better life for their family.

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Record numbers of people from central America are crossing into the US. In 2018 the number of families apprehend at the US border doubled from 2017 to 50,401.

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Remote indigenous Mayan communities returned to their devastated homeland in 1996 at the end of Guatemala's 36-year-long civil war.

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Matteo left for the US with this 13-year-old brother. He crossed the border in January 2018 but got deported. He paid $3,000 to be guided north by people smugglers. Now he's home he earns around $5 per day and he can't pay back his debt. 'I'm feeling a bit desperate, like I'm stuck here,' he says.

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Children in Yalambojoch learned the details of Felipe's death during the funeral ceremony.

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Felipe's village is a 12 hour drive north of Guatemala City, high in the mountains near the border with Mexico. 

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Felipe's mother leads the funeral procession up to the burial ground that over looks the village. 

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Felipe's father borrowed $5,000 dollars to get to the US. That's three year's wages on the average earnings in the village. 

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Felipe's sister Catarina Gomez says she loved her little brother a lot and hopes that God will give her family the strength to carry on. 

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Yalambojoch is a small Catholic community. Every month families leave to start their journeys to the US. 

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Pupils at Felipe's school see their classes grow smaller as more families leave.

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Felipe's teacher Pedro Gomez is concerned about the numbers of his pupils leaving. He says he warns the parents but they don't listen. 

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Felipe's body was buried by his family next to the graves of his relatives. 

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