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Border & Immigration

2 Migrant Teens Sheltered At Freeman Coliseum Say They Came For Opportunity And Have Mostly Found Kindness

Josue (left) and Eric (right) both turned 18 years old on Thursday making them ineligible to stay at the Freeman Coliseum's emergency intake site which is reserved for boys aged 13 to 17. After aging out, both will head to stay with family in other parts of the United States while their cases to stay in the country are overheard by judges.
Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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Josue (left) and Eric (right) both turned 18 years old on Thursday making them ineligible to stay at the Freeman Coliseum's emergency intake site which is reserved for boys aged 13 to 17. After aging out, both will head to stay with family in other parts of the United States while their cases to stay in the country are overheard by judges.

About a month ago, 17-year-old Josue said goodbye to his family of farmers in El Salvador and headed for the United States in search of work.

He paid smugglers to take him and they dropped him off by the border wall in El Paso a few weeks ago.

“Where they left me, I just looked for the Border Patrol,” he said in Spanish. “They (border agents) grabbed me and took me to a center. Then, they took everything, then they sent me to a clinic. There, they took my clothes and gave me other clothes.”

After being held in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility for four days, he was taken to the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio. It’s one of 10 emergency shelters opened up by the Biden administration in Texas to house the large number of minors crossing the border without their parents.

It was also in the news last week after Abbott called for it to be shut down due to complaints received by the state of a lack of supervision, food and possible bullying and inappropriate behavior among teens.

“Everything was good,” Josue told a small group of reporters on Friday, describing his time in federal custody while sitting in the San Antonio office of the nonprofit Catholic Charities. “They don’t treat you badly.”

The brown, thin boy with a head of trimmed curly hair said he’s been treated well by both staff at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility and the San Antonio shelter run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for boys ages 13 to 17 years old. But he said the San Antonio shelter had better beds and more food.

“Over there, at bedtime, it was mats on the floor and the blankets were like nylon,” he said of the CBP facility in El Paso. “Here (in San Antonio) it’s different. There are beds, all with blankets, and we have more food here as well.”

But as soon as he turned 18 last week, he said he was separated from other boys at the Freeman shelter.

Catholic Charities workers took him and Eric, another slender boy with short, straight hair who also aged out of the shelter last week, to celebrate their birthdays at a Pizza Hut and were helping them reconnect with relatives in other states.

“The truth is I just wanted to leave because I got bored there. I just wanted to leave quickly,” said Eric, explaining he got restless at the San Antonio shelter.

Before then, he spent six days in a CBP facility, after leaving his hometown in Guatemala March 4 and climbing over the border wall in El Paso a few weeks ago.

The two teens, who didn’t meet until they were taken to the Freeman shelter, said they were only allowed to go outside for half an hour. They said the last month has been the hardest hardest experience of their lives, filled with homesickness.

“I’ve never left my family, and it's been really tough” Josue said. “I miss the food, everything, the freedom.”

But they’re both anxious to get to work here and send money to their families.

“My priority is to help my family in El Salvador because we’re really poor,” Josue said. “That’s why I came — to help them.”

Eric says he also wants to study. Back in Guatemala, he had to focus on helping his family and father, who is in a wheelchair, by growing beans and corn on their small parcel of land.

“My parents don’t have money for me to study. That’s why I decided to come here to study,” he said. “Maybe I’ll find a job and continue studying.”

Teens like Josue and Eric have become a focal point in politics, as Republicans such as Gov. Abbott blame President Joe Biden for their arrival at the border.

“The Biden administration caused this crisis and has repeatedly failed to address it,” Abbott said during a press conference last week outside of the Freeman Coliseum, where he leveled accusations that minors sheltered there faced “sexual abuse” and “neglect.”

Eric and Josue say they heard about Biden — when they got to the U.S. Before then, they didn’t know much about border policies or Biden’s decision to once again allow migrant minors into the United States and seek asylum.

When asked whether they would seek asylum, the confused teens said they didn't know. They just planned to reconnect with relatives in New York and Iowa.

What they did know from the news was that “the one who governs here” is against immigration, said Josue, unable to name Gov. Abbott.

“We heard he’s against immigrants,” he said. “We’ve been watching the TV and seeing that the situation is complicated.”

He said he wanted people to know that for migrants turned away at the border, it’s devastating.

“It’s a hard journey here all the way from over there,” he said. “For one to come here and to be returned to our country, it’s very hard. They should at least let the minors cross.”

TPR's Joey Palacios contributed to this report.

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