Migrant Center Report / Reporte del Centro de Migrantes

The interviews excerpted here were conducted in El Salvador from January 2014 to September 2014 at the migrant return center in San Salvador. Two days a week, unaccompanied child migrants who were apprehended in Mexico below the capital were deported there, as were accompanied child migrants apprehended anywhere in Mexico. Unaccompanied children apprehended in northern Mexico are deported by air to El Salvador’s international airport on a less regular schedule.

Through a bilateral agreement between El Salvador and Mexico, a child is not returned until a family member has been contacted in El Salvador and assures that s/he will be at the migrant return center to receive the child. In the nine months we were at the center, no adult came only a handful of times; in almost all of these cases, the child’s mother resided in the US, and migration officials always attempted to locate another family member, sometimes multiple family members, and at times, gave money from their own pockets to make sure the child had enough to eat while s/he waited.

When I began going to the center in January 2014, between five and 20 children were returned on each day. Starting in April 2014, between 30 and 60 were returned, which is when I recruited, trained and greatly benefitted from having Karla Castillo, who ended up contributing much more than just assistance with interviews. We had one day when no children arrived and one day when nearly 200 came.  While the buses arrived for two weeks in April in the morning, they typically arrived in the afternoon, or once more started coming, in phases throughout the day. The later buses arrived, the less interviews we could complete, since migrants and their families are in a hurry to leave before dark. The return center is in a gang-controlled neighborhood (Quinonez or “La Chacra”), and two people were murdered on the only street that can be used to exit the neighborhood during our nine months doing interviews.

We began interviews with returned children and their family members with basic demographic information like: age, gender and with whom the child lives (and their age, relationship and job). We then asked where they live and what living there is like, with follow up questions about gang, police and military presence, religious involvement, land ownership and remittances. Before transitioning to where their mom and dad are (which is always sensitive since many have a father who has been inactive or minimally active) and where and with whom they wanted to live in the US, we asked if they ever lived anywhere else. Then, we asked if they were actively studying, with a number of follow up questions about public/private, grade, grades received, and if not studying, why not studying. We asked if they were actively working, and if they were, when they began, how much they earned, what they did with the earnings, if they were still able to study, and whether they’d like to be doing something else. After that, we explicitly asked them why they wanted to leave the country. We were at least 10 minutes into the interview at that point and sometimes over an hour into it. Depending on the reason, we then asked reason-specific follow up questions.

Importantly, in my first interviews in January, pressed for time and unsure how long migrants would be willing to talk with me after a long bus ride ending — at least temporarily — a costly dream, I began with this question (why did you want to leave?) and got very short responses. They were typically: to be with my family, to have a better life, and to “seguir adelante.” When I asked for elaboration, many stared and said they had to go. Thus, I structured the aforementioned questions and incorporated them at the beginning of interviews, which yielded much more detailed responses to why they wanted to leave.

Finally, we asked with whom they traveled (coyote/guia, family, friends, other or alone), whether they would try again (most would), what they hoped to do in the US if they arrived and a few questions about their journey. They were least willing to answer questions about the journey (and about whether they had lived somewhere else). We also asked them why they decided to travel at this point in time (rather than a year or two ago or a year or two in the future) and what they knew about immigration reform, the system for seeking asylum in the US and Mexico, and the system for child migrants in each country.

We have shared the questionnaire that we used with other researchers, government officials, and service providers in multiple countries. Most interviews lasted between 10 and 30 minutes. A few were much longer, and a few were very short. The most children either of us interviewed in one day was 22. On a few occasions, Karla and I completed 40 together. Our goal was to complete interviews with at least 25 percent of those returned in a day, which we achieved on all but three days; on a few days, we interviewed 100 percent.

To protect the identity of migrant participants, I have elected not to list the date on which they were returned, where they hoped to arrive in the US or from where they came in El Salvador.

Karla and I are very thankful to the children and families who told us their stories. We were also incredibly impressed with the DGME officials who received them. We cannot say enough good things about them. They care deeply and were transparent. We greatly appreciate their assistance and kindness to us and to the migrants.

Las entrevistas analizadas y extraídas en este blog se están llevando a cabo en El Salvador,desde enero 2014 hasta septiembre 2014. Dos días a la semana, los niños migrantes que fueron detenidos en México son deportados. En estos días, voy al centro de retorno de migrantes y realizo entrevistas a los familiares en espera y sus hijos retornados.

Cuando empecé a ir, en enero de 2014, entre cinco y 20 niños fueron retornados cada día, pero a partir de abril de 2014, entre 30 y el 60 son retornados. Hubo un día que ningún niño llegó, y un día que llegaron 200. En Abril, durante dos semanas, los autobuses llegaron por la mañana, aunque usualmente llegan por la tarde.En las tardes de su llegada, puedo realizar pocas entrevistas porque los migrantes y sus familias tienen prisa por salir antes de que oscurezca. El centro de retorno está en una colonia peligrosa (Quiñónez o “La Chacra”); durante este año, dos personas fueron asesinadas en la única calle que puede ser utilizada para salir del lugar.

Empiezo las entrevistas con información demográfica básica como edad, sexo y con quiénes vive el niño (sus edades y la relación). Luego, pregunto dónde viven y cómo es vivir allí, con preguntas de seguimiento sobre la presencia de pandillas, policía o militar, la participación religiosa, la propiedad de tierras y las remesas. Antes de preguntar dónde está su mamá y su papá (que es siempre delicado, ya que muchos tienen un padre que nunca estuvo involucrado) y dónde y con quién querían vivir en los EE.UU., pregunto si alguna vez vivieron en otro sitio. Luego, pregunto si están estudiando activamente, con una serie de preguntas de seguimiento acerca educación pública/privada, grado de estudio, calificaciones recibidas, y si no estudia, por qué no lo hace. Realizo preguntas similares acerca de si están trabajando activamente. Después de eso, les pregunto explícitamente por qué querían salir del país, y dependiendo de la razón, hago preguntas específicas de seguimiento. Por último, pregunto con quién viajaron (coyote/guía, familia, amigos, otros o solos), si lo intentarán de nuevo (la mayoría lo hará), y lo que esperan hacer en los Estados Unidos, si logran llegar. 

La mayor cantidad de niños que he entrevistado, individualmente, en un día, es de 22. Cuando la investigadora salvadoreña, Karla Castillo, viene conmigo, podemos obtener hasta de 40. Nuestro objetivo es completar al menos la mitad de las entrevistas, y si el grupo es grande y hay una entrevistadora, al menos la cuarta parte.

Para proteger la identidad de los migrantes participantes, he optado por no indicar la fecha en que fueron retornados, a donde esperan llegar a los EE.UU. o de donde provienenen El Salvador.

I met his mom and girlfriend before I met him. Neither knew he planned to migrate. They had worried greatly during the two weeks he was gone. While they were relieved he was coming back, they were crying because they could not understand how he could leave them. He left the day after his girlfriend gave birth to their first child, while she was still in the hospital because of complications related to her 15-year-old body not being fully ready for the laborious task. He had grown up without a father and always vowed he would be there for his children. They both told me this separately. I went inside and found him. Anguished. I proceeded with the standard questions, finally coming to: why do you want to leave? He bowed his head. His voice quivering, he said his child had been born two weeks earlier. He’d wanted to give his girlfriend, the love of his life, a gift. He’d wanted to buy their child a crib. But he had no money, and he realized he would never have money to give either of them what they deserved. So, he decided to go North. He said it would be difficult to see them now, first because he failed, and second because he planned to try again until he made it. His plan, like so many others’, is to arrive, work hard, save, and send for them within a year.

The 14-year-old stood by his grandmother. She did most of the talking. They once lived in a different part of their city that was safe, but they moved because they wanted their own space. The mother he hasn’t seen in seven years sends money from the US so that he can keep attending school in the old neighborhood. He says he constantly wants to cry when he thinks about her. He has to wake three hours earlier to get to school in time. It’s a sacrifice the three of them feel is worth it. Nonetheless, one of his friends in the neighborhood where they live now has joined the gang. He’s pressuring him to join, too, but he wants to live, so he keeps refusing. When I asked if he had been threatened, he asked: “Why do I have to wait to be threatened if I know it’s so dangerous? Sometimes they don’t threaten. They just kill.”

I asked him: “does anyone in your home frequently get angry?” He emphatically responded: “YO!” I asked him why. He said he really did not know. Sometimes his mom tries to talk with him, and he cannot control his temper. He has worked in the fields since he was 13 years old but is only paid U$6/day. He finished ninth grade, unlike his brother who only finished third grade, but he had to quit the year before in order to work more. He has his mom and younger siblings at home with him, but his dad died seven years earlier of a burst appendix, and his older siblings are in the United States. He has been threatened to join the gang but has not yet been beaten. He has avoided their wrath by leaving the home only to go to and from work. When I ask him what his dream job is, he tells me working in a restaurant in the U.S. where he will be kind and receive good tips to send back to his family. He is so sincere and humble that I cannot imagine him getting angry, but hearing about his life as he explains that he only wants to give his mom and siblings a better future, I am angry, too, that he has so few options to do so.

The single mother and her three daughters looked like they had not slept in days. The journey through Mexico was hard, and they were robbed and threatened several times, but their life before then was even more difficult. Right now, they’re deciding if staying is harder than going, and they’re leaning toward an affirmative response. They have already moved three times in El Salvador, and each time, they’ve confronted the same problems: gang members who want to “date” the attractive, adolescent girls. As each refuses, the gang threatens to harm her, her siblings and her mom. They went to the police once, but it only made matters worse, so now, they make another move once the situation is untenable. The mom has always loved her country and never wanted to go to the U.S., but she now is willing to do it to ensure her girls can become women. They said goodbye and went to look for a place to stay that night since they felt returning to their home could result in death.

La madre soltera y sus tres hijas parecían como si no habían dormido en días. El viaje por México fue duro y ellas habían sido robadas y amenazadas muchas veces, pero su vida antes de esto era aún más difícil. Justo ahora, ellas decidirán si quedarse es más duro que irse, y su respuesta se inclina hacia una respuesta positiva. Ellas ya se ha mudado tres veces en El Salvador, y cada vez, ellas se enfrentaron con los mismos problemas: maras que querían cortejar a las atractivas adolescentes. Como cada vez se negaron, la pandilla amenazó con lastimarlas a ellas, a sus hermanos y a su madre. Ellas fueron a la policía una vez, pero esto solo hizo el problema aún mayor. Ellas se mudaron otra vez cuando la situación fue insostenible. La madre siempre fue querida en su país y nunca quizo irse a los Estados Unidos pero ahora está dispuesta a hacerlo para asegurar que sus niñas puedan llegar a ser mayores. Ellas dijeron adiós y fueron a buscar un lugar donde pasar la noche ya que consideran que regresar a su hogar puede causar la muerte.

Two-and-a-half years ago, he was kidnapped from his home in rural El Salvador by gang members. While he was eventually released, the threats never stopped. He lived in constant fear. In fact, he and his mom feared that if they reported the kidnapping and threats to the police or attorney general’s office their lives would become worse. They knew of several who made a report and then found themselves further compromised. They knew no one who saw their case resolved after reporting it. His cousin recently fled to the United States after gang members broke his nose because he would not join the gang. The school director allowed the gangs to come and go freely from the school. He quit going to school the year before, both because he did not feel safe there and because he had learning difficulties that the school refused to address. He stayed inside all day and dreamed of an adolescence in which he could walk in the streets. As much as his mom wants him here with her, she thinks he could have a childhood with her sister in the US.

Hace dos años y medio, él fue secuestrado de su casa, en una zona rural de El Salvador, por pandilleros. A pesar de que fue puesto en libertad, las amenazas nunca cesaron y vivía en constante temor. De hecho, él y su madre temían que si denunciaban el secuestro y las amenazas a la policía o a la oficina del procurador general,  sus vidas se convertirían en algo peor. Ellos sabían de varias personas quienes reportaron hechos similares y luego se encontraron aún más comprometidas. No conocían a nadie cuyo caso se hubiera resuelto después de informarlo. Su primo, recientemente, huyó a los Estados Unidos después de que los pandilleros le quebraran la nariz por negar unirse a la mara. El Director de la escuela le permitió  a las pandillas ir y venir libremente de la escuela. Él dejó de ir a la escuela el año pasado,  porque no se sentía seguro de estar allí y porque tenía dificultades de aprendizaje que la escuela se negó a abordar. Se quedaba adentro de su casa durante todo el día y soñaba con una adolescencia en la que pudiera caminar por las calles. Por más que su madre quiere que el permanezca aquí, con ella,  piensa que él podría tener una mejor infancia con su hermana en los EE.UU

He lived with his uncle, siblings and cousins in a rural area. Despite having no gang presence only a few years ago, his neighborhood is now “full” of gangs and danger. He was afraid to go outside, even though the gangs had not yet threatened him. So was his cousin closest in age. They both stayed inside the house all day because of their fear about what could happen. They only went to and from school. His uncle did not fight this decision, because he worried about the younger children who could be impacted by violence if it began. He and his oldest cousin each had a mom in the United States that he had not seen in ten years. Their moms and uncle decided that they should reunify and finish school in the US where they could be safe and free from worry. They reasoned that it was better to leave before the direct threats started.

Él vivió con su tío, hermanos y primos en una zona rural. A pesar de no haber presencia de pandillas hace sólo unos años atrás, su barrio está ahora “repleto” y es muy peligro. Tenía miedo de salir a la calle, a pesar de que las pandillas aún no lo habían amenazado. De la misma forma, hacía su primo más cercano en edad. Los dos se quedaban dentro de la casa,  durante todo el día, por el temor de lo que podría suceder. Ellos sólo iban y venían de la escuela. Su tío no luchó contra esta decisión, pues estaba preocupado de que los niños más pequeños se vieran afectados en caso de que la violencia comenzara.  Él y su primo mayor tenían a sus madres en los Estados Unidos, a la cuales no había visto en diez años. Sus madres y su tío decidieron que deberían reunificarse y terminar la escuela en los EE.UU. donde pudieran estar a salvo y libre de preocupaciones. Pensaron que era  mejor salir antes de que las amenazas directas comenzaran.

The teenage boy first told me: “la situacion en nuestra pais es muy dura” [the situation in our country is difficult]. The gang in his neighborhood wanted him to sell drugs. When he refused, they beat him. He resisted so strongly, because drug sell is the introduction into gang life, and before long, the gang would expect him to extort, rape and kill. The gang told him after beating him they would kill him if he did not join. He quit attending school to attempt avoiding them. He is afraid to report them, because he has seen entire families killed for doing the same in his community. Neighbors say police there are also criminals. He believed it is “mejor callar o salir huyendo” [better to shut up or flee]. For three months, he fled to hiding with an aunt in a different part of El Salvador. Then, the gang found him again. With no other options, the Tuesday before, he left with a coyote for the United States. He can try again two more times, and he has every intention to try until he is successful.

El adolescente, primero, me dijo: “la situación en nuestro país es muy dura”. La pandilla en su barrio quería que él vendiera drogas. Cuando se negó, lo golpearon. Resistió con mucha fuerza, porque la venta de drogas es la introducción a la vida de pandilla, y en poco tiempo, los pandilleros podrían esperar que él extorsionara, violara y matara. La mara le dijo, después de golpearlo, que lo matarían si él no se unía a ella.  Dejó de asistir a la escuela para tratar de evitarlos y miedo de informar lo ocurrido, porque ha visto a familias enteras asesinadas, en su comunidad, por hacerlo. Los vecinos dicen que los policías también son criminales. Él creía que es “mejor callar o salir huyendo”. Huyó y, durante tres meses, se escondió donde una tía que vive en un lugar diferente en El Salvador. Sin embargo, la pandilla volvió a encontrarlo.  Sin ninguna otra opción, el martes pasado, se fue con un coyote hacia los Estados Unidos. Puede intentarlo de nuevo dos veces más, y tiene toda la intención de tratar hasta que tenga éxito.

Nearing adulthood, she felt she’d exhausted her options in El Salvador, and she felt ready to get the missing pieces of her life in place. At 12 years old, the gang in her school started forcibly recruiting her. She refused to join, but their threats and abuses escalated. To avoid harm, she quit school. She could not attend another since it would require her to traverse a different gang’s territory. At the time, many of her classmates made the same decision. None of them felt safe at school. Yet, all of them were afraid to report their fears to the police, because gang members were known to have sources of information within the force. She stayed at home most of the day every day and started dreaming of seeing her mother in the US again. Soon, the gang started coming to her home to harass her, and she no longer felt safe there either. A cousin in a different department offered to house her. She went, but her cousin was unable to care for her on her meager wages. Then, a family friend took her in. She provided free child care to the friend’s three children. For several months, no one bothered her, but as she cared for her friend’s children, she desired to meet her two US-born sisters more and more. With her mom’s blessing and backing, she headed for the US.  She was deported this time, but she has two more chances.

Acercándose a la edad adulta, ella sintió que había agotado sus opciones en El Salvador, y se sentía lista para conseguir las piezas que faltaban en su vida. A los doce años, la pandilla, en su escuela, intentó reclutarla a la fuerza. Ella se negó a unirse pero los abusos y amenazas se intensificaron. Para evitar daños, ella abandonó la escuela y no pudo asistir a otra porque, para llegar, tenía que atravesar el territorio de una pandilla diferente. Para ese tiempo, muchos de sus compañeros tomaron la misma decisión de abandonar la escuela porque no se sentían seguros. Aún así, todos ellos estaban asustados de reportar sus temores a la policía, porque se sabe que los pandilleros tienen fuentes de información a la fuerza. Todos los días, ella se quedó en casa la mayor parte del tiempo y comenzó  a soñar con ver nuevamente a su madre en los EE.UU. Pronto, la pandilla comenzó a llegar a su casa para acosarla, por lo cual tampoco se sentía segura en ahí. Un primo, que vive en otro Departamento, en El Salvador, le ofreció albergue pero fue incapaz de mantenerla por mucho tiempo, por su bajo salario. Luego, se fue con un amigo de la familia de quien cuidaba los hijos de manera gratuita. Durante varios meses, nadie la molestó, pero mientras cuidaba de los hijos del amigo, su deseo por conocer a sus hermanas nacidas en Estados Unidos creció. Con la bendición y el apoyo de su madre, se dirigió a los Estados Unidos. En esta ocasión, fue deportada pero tiene dos oportunidades más.

More than the wrinkles on his face and thinning hair made him look older than his teenage years. He never had a dad or siblings. His mom died when he was little, and he went to live with his grandmother. Then, she died, too. He stopped studying after finishing ninth grade and began working in the fields. A few days before we met at the center, some of his friends decided to go North. He had never gone further than 30 minutes away by bus. He decided he wanted to see the world, too. He went with them on what he called his first adventure. They made it to Tapachula before being detained. He said he was unsure yet if he’d try the journey again, but the look in his eye said he was ready to escape the next chance he got.

Las arrugas en su rostro y su cabello delgado lo hacían parecer más mayor que sus años de adolescencia. Nunca tuvo un padre ni hermanos. Su madre murió cuando era pequeño, entonces, se fue a vivir con su abuela quien, posteriormente, murió. Él dejó de estudiar después de terminar el noveno grado y comenzó a trabajar en el campo. Unos días antes de que nos encontráramos en el centro de retorno, algunos de sus amigos decidieron ir al Norte. Nunca había viajado más de 30 minutos en autobús, pero decidió que también quería ver el mundo. Fue con ellos, en lo que llamó su primera aventura. Antes de ser detenidos, llegaron a Tapachula. Dijo que aún no estaba seguro si intentaría hacer el viaje de nuevo, pero la mirada en sus ojos dijo que estaba listo para escapar en la próxima oportunidad que se presentara.

His aunt cried the entire time we talked. Her teenage nephew headed for his mom and dad in the United States against her wishes. He missed his parents and wanted to be with them after years apart. She said she had raised him so long that she felt he was her son, and she did not want to lose him. He then said that he wanted to study with the possibility of a better future, which he could not do in El Salvador. He also wanted to work in something other than agriculture. They both said in unison that was the only work one could find where they live. He resolutely said he would attempt the trip again. As he did, she gasped, and her eyes filled again with tears.

Su tía lloró durante todo el tiempo que estuvimos hablando. Su sobrino adolescente, en contra de sus deseos,  se dirigió hacia los Estados Unidos, donde está su madre y su padre. Echaba de menos a sus padres y quería estar con ellos después de años de estar separados. Ella lo había criado durante mucho tiempo que, incluso, sentía que era su hijo y no quería perderlo. Luego,  él  dijo que quería estudiar para tener la posibilidad de un futuro mejor, lo cual no había podido hacer en El Salvador. También, quería un trabajo diferente a la agricultura, pues, como ambos dijeron, al unísono, ese era el único trabajo que se podía encontrar en el lugar en que viven. Él dijo, decidido,  que iba a intentar el viaje de nuevo. Cuando él dijo eso, ella se quedó sin aliento, y sus ojos se llenaron de nuevo de lágrimas.

A pregnant girl wanted safety, a new start and her mom’s hug. Her dad never played a role in her life. Her mom emigrated to the US over a decade earlier to send money in hopes that it could afford her daughter more opportunities than she had. The girl stayed with her aunt and felt like part of their family, but she also felt like something was missing. She stopped her education before she reached high school. The gang controlled her neighborhood and school. A married man involved in this gang began courting her. He moved her in with him seven months ago. When he learned she was pregnant, he began beating her. He threatened to kill her if she did not abort (which is illegal in El Salvador and the reason over 30 women are imprisoned). She fled back to her aunt, who welcomed her with open arms. The man’s threats continued. Her aunt called her mom for help. Her mom wants to make up for lost time. She wants to be by her daughter’s side. She wants to care for her grandchild so that her child can finish school.

Una chica embarazada quería seguridad, un nuevo comienzo y un abrazo de su mamá. Su padre nunca jugó un papel en su vida. Hace más de una década, su madre emigró a los EE.UU. para poder enviar dinero y tener la esperanza de que su hija pudiera afrontar las oportunidades que ella nuca tuvo. La niña se permaneció con su tía, se sentía como parte de la familia, pero también sentía que aún le hacía falta algo. Dejó sus estudios antes de llegar a bachillerato. La pandilla controlaba su barrio y su escuela. Un hombre casado involucrado en la pandilla comenzó a cortejarla y hace siete meses, ella se fue a vivir con él. Cuando se enteró de que estaba embarazada, él comenzó a golpearla y la amenazó con matarla si ella no abortaba (lo cual es ilegal en El Salvador y razón por la cual más de 30 mujeres están en prisión). Ella huyó de vuelta hacia donde su tía, quien la recibió con los brazos abiertos, sin embargo, las amenazas del hombre continuaron. Su tía llamó a su madre en busca de ayuda. Su madre quiere recuperar el tiempo perdido y estar al lado de su hija; quiere cuidar a su nieto para que su hija pueda terminar la escuela.

The teenage boy answered my first question with: “we can speak in English. I’ve missed it.” He was on his way back to friends and family in the US city where he had lived for nearly a decade. He wanted to finish high school where he first started his education. Besides the classes in El Salvador not being challenging, he also did not feel safe. He only left the house to go to and from school. Still, to get there, he had to walk past the neighborhood gang. They hurled insults at him and threatened to kill him if he did not join them. A few years before, his mom and dad were issued removal orders in the US but elected voluntary departure for themselves and their children. To cover the cost of their plane tickets, they had to take a loan. His dad thought starting a small business in El Salvador was their best bet for paying the loan quickly. Unfortunately, the neighborhood gang began charging him renta shortly after he opened it. He hasn’t been able to pay down the loan, is barely supporting his family, and worries that he won’t be able to keep paying renta.

El adolescente respondió a mi primera pregunta con: “podemos hablar en Inglés. He perdido. “Él estaba en su camino de regreso hacia sus amigos y familiares en la ciudad de los EE.UU. donde había vivido durante casi una década. Quería terminar la escuela secundaria donde comenzó a estudiar. Además de que las clases en El Salvador no representan un reto, tampoco se sentía seguro aquí.  Sólo salía de la casa para ir a la escuela y para llegar a esta, tenía que caminar a través de un vecindario dominado por las pandillas, quienes lo insultaron y amenazaron de muerte si no aceptaba unirse a ellas. Unos años antes, su mamá y su papá recibieron órdenes de expulsión de los EE.UU., pero eligieron la salida voluntaria para ellos y sus hijos. Para cubrir el costo de sus pasajes de avión, tuvieron que tomar un préstamo y su padre pensaba que iniciar un pequeño negocio en El Salvador era la mejor apuesta para pagar la deuda rápidamente. Por desgracia, la pandilla del barrio comenzó a cobrarles la renta, al poco tiempo después de abrir el negocio. Hasta el momento, no ha sido capaz de pagar el préstamo, apenas logra mantener a su familia y le preocupa no poder continuar pagando la renta de las pandillas.

An adolescent male attempted the journey alone because he wants to finish high school. In January, he began his last year of high school in his neighborhood. Within a few days, a gang’s members surrounded him as he exited the school. They told him that if he did not join them, they would kill him. Since they had killed others in the past months, he took their threats very seriously. When he prepared to go to school the next day and saw them, he decided to drop out to save his life. He cannot go to another neighborhood’s school, because the gangs there will assume he is a member of the gang and will also threaten, harm or kill him. With his family, he devised a plan: he would reunite with the man who helped raise him, his father by choice but not be blood, in the US. There, he could feel safe and finish his studies so that he can become an electrician.

Un joven adolescente intentó realizar el viaje él solo porque quería terminar sus estudios de bachillerato (escuela secundaria). En enero, comenzó a estudiar el bachillerato en su barrio, pero dentro de unos días, al salir de la escuela,  los miembros de la pandilla  lo rodearon y le dijeron que si no aceptaba unirse, lo matarían. Dado que ellos habían asesinado a otros en los últimos meses, él tomaba muy enserio las amenazas. Al día siguiente, se preparó para ir a la escuela y cuando los vio decidió no continuar para salvar su vida. No puede estudiar en otro barrio porque las pandillas de ese otro lugar asumirán que es pandillero y lo querrán amenazar, hacer daño o asesinar. Con su familia, ideó un plan: reunirse con el hombre que lo crió y a quien ve como su padre (aunque no tienen parentesco) en los Estados Unidos. Allá, el podría sentirse seguro y terminar sus estudios para llegar a ser un electricista.

This afternoon, a young boy who attempted the journey to the US with his aunt and cousins was returned. Because her last name was different, the aunt couldn’t take him home. Instead, he sat alone, hoping that his uncle from one of the departments furthest from San Salvador would get there quickly. He looked absolutely defeated. He was barefoot because criminals robbed him of his shoes. I sat down to talk with him, and he began crying. Luckily, no rules exist here that prevent me from hugging him. He doesn’t know what to do next. He misses his parents, who left for the US eight years ago, and he hasn’t met his little sister. Nonetheless, he does not want to take that route again. Unless immigration reform that provides undocumented parents like his a way to bring their children, that route will be his only way of getting to them.

Esta tarde, un joven que intentó realizar el viaje a los EE.UU. con su tía y sus primos fue retornado. Debido a que su apellido era diferente, la tía no podía llevarlo a casa. Mientras tanto, él estaba sentado solo, con la esperanza de que su tío llegara de uno de los Departamentos más lejanos de San Salvador para irse rápidamente. Parecía absolutamente derrotado. Estaba descalzo porque los delincuentes le habían robado sus zapatos. Cuando me senté a hablar con él, comenzó a llorar. Por suerte, no existen reglas aquí que me hubieran impedido abrazarlo. Ahora, no sabe qué hacer. Echa de menos a sus padres, quienes se fueron a los Estados Unidos hace ocho años y aún no conoce a su hermana que nació allá. Sin embargo, él no quiere hacer ese camino de nuevo. A menos que una reforma migratoria permita a los padres indocumentados llevar a sus hijos, ese camino será su única forma de llegar a ellos.

An older father, with his hands and face worn by years working under the sun in the fields, came to retrieve his son. This father worried a lot about his son. At the same time, he said his son worried a lot about him. Several years earlier, he became ill and began requiring regular medication. Their family is humble and makes less than U$200.00/month. His son hated seeing him perform hard labor and still struggle to afford the medicine he needs. Thus, his son decided he would migrate to the US to help support his dad, mom and younger siblings. Their bond is strong. The son has helped his dads in the fields since he was six years old. His father taught him to read and write at home in the mornings before they went to the fields in the afternoon. His father chose to teach his children because he feared what could happen to them if they went to the closest school. It would take them over an hour to walk there, and they would face security risks arriving there and studying there.

Un padre de edad avanzada, con las manos y el rostro maltratados ​​por  los años de trabajo bajo el sol en el campo, fue a buscar a su hijo. Se preocupaba mucho por su hijo y dijo que su hijo también se preocupaba mucho por él.  Varios años antes, el padre se enfermó y comenzó a necesitar medicamentos regularmente. Su familia es muy humilde y gana menos de $200.00 al mes. Su hijo odia ver a su padre realizar trabajos duros y  luchar para pagar las medicinas que necesita. Por esto, el joven decidió emigrar a los EE.UU. para ayudar a su padre, a su madre y a sus hermanos menores. Su compromiso es fuerte; él ha ayudado a sus padres a trabajar en el campo desde que tenía seis años de edad. Su padre le enseñó a leer y escribir, en casa, por las mañanas antes de ir a trabajar al campo, por las tardes. Su padre decidió enseñarles a sus hijos en casa porque temía de lo que podría sucederles si asistían a la escuela más cercana, pues les llevaría más de una hora caminando hacia el lugar y se enfrentarían con los riesgos de inseguridad de llegar hasta allí y de estudiar allí.

When asking a youth why he wanted to migrate to the US: “Miss, I really want to be an actor. I know it is hard to become one in the US. … but at least there’s a chance. Here, there’s no opportunity for such things.” He had other reasons for leaving as well, but I especially admired his passion, intelligence and hope.

Al preguntar a los jóvenes por qué querían emigrar a los EE.UU.: “Señorita, yo realmente quiero ser actor. Sé que es duro convertirse en uno, en los Estados Unidos,  pero por lo menos hay una posibilidad. Aquí, no hay oportunidad para ese tipo de cosas.” Él tenía otras razones para irse,  pero yo, en especial, admiré su pasión,  inteligencia y  esperanza.

A worried mom and dad came for their adolescent daughter. In December, a local gang member asked her to be his girlfriend. She refused him, at which point she and her family began to receive threats from the gang. She stopped going to school in an attempt to avoid the gang. She planned to live with a sibling in the US and begin her studies anew.

Una madre y un padre preocupado vinieron a buscar a su hija adolescente. En diciembre, un miembro de una pandilla local le pidió que fuera su novia. Ella lo rechazó, y desde ese momento,  ella y su familia empezaron a recibir amenazas por parte de la pandilla. En un intento por evitar a los pandilleros, dejó de ir a la escuela. Ella planeaba vivir con un hermano en los EE.UU. y comenzar sus estudios de nuevo.


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