Brian Fernando López Reyes, 11, says that gangs tried to recruit him in El Salvador.Haya El Nasser
For Homero Lobato and Jennaya Dunlap, volunteers with Immigration Raids Rapid Response Network, hear vivid tales such as Reyes’ daily.
“The biggest challenge is helping families who started arriving here and are detained,” Dunlap said. “We’re trying to find them.”
Children and adults who have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley had been flown to California, put on buses and taken to detention centers around the state. Relocations to California for now, but there are still thousands of people scattered in shelters from Kansas and Massachusetts to Georgia and Florida waiting to be reunited with families hundreds of miles away.
A few days ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that four flights transporting recent border crossers — all of them single adults — arrested in Texas have landed in Massachusetts since April to take advantage of available detention space in New England. Most have since been deported, and the rest remain in detention awaiting asylum hearings.
Congress is considering a $3.7 billion supplemental budget request and debating how to speed up the processing of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
But regardless of whether these immigrants are granted asylum or are deported, they’re here now.
A Guatemalan family got a call recently from the kids they had left behind almost six years ago. The children, now 10 and 6, had made the crossing into the U.S. and were in a detention center in El Paso, Texas, 750 miles away. They stayed in detention a month until the Justice for Immigrants Coalition, of which Rapid Response is part, raised money for transportation and the family was reunited.
“I’m a father with a family,” said Lobato, who drove the reunited family on the last leg of their trip. “I would go through the impossible to be with my family. I can identify with them.”
So much, “I cried when the families met each other” and the young children saw their U.S.-born baby brother for the first time, he said.
“When children come unaccompanied, they won’t release them” unless they have family that will take them in or someone agrees to sponsor them, Dunlap said.
Sending children alone seems incomprehensible to many, but Dunlap said one mother told her, “Maybe my kid will die on the way to the U.S., but it’s better than dying on my doorstep. At least my kid has a chance to be saved.”
What will happen to people like the Reyeses is uncertain. Being targeted by gang members may not qualify them for asylum because the burden of proof is very high.
So some will try to stay and join the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Others will be deported, a bleak prospect for those who fear death back home.
“If there was a legal process to come here, they would wait,” Lobato said.
For Eileen Barner, a real estate agent who has joined the camp of protesters who blocked buses of immigrants from entering the Border Patrol station in Murrieta, California, the answer is clear: The families should not be here.
“As a mother of four, I would not put my children through this,” she said.