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First person: a migrant student's story

Children in Holding Institute in Laredo, Texas on May 29, 2019. Their parents are seeking asylum in the U.S. Verónica G. Cárdenas for Texas Public Radio
Veronica G. Cardenas
Children in Holding Institute in Laredo, Texas on May 29, 2019. Their parents are seeking asylum in the U.S. Verónica G. Cárdenas for Texas Public Radio

The story of unaccompanied migrants is understood in the broad sense but the individual stories are difficult to come by. The children are frequently absorbed into their immigration communities and they deliberately maintain a low profile due to concerns for public safety and not wanting to attract attention that they fear could lead to deportation.

With this in mind Texas Public Radio met with a group of teenagers who are dealing with the issues connected to their entering the United States. And TPR helped them in the reporting, recording, production and sharing of their story.

The teens interviewed one of their own—a student from their class. With the help of Texas Public Radio’s Yvette Benavides, they then wrote and recorded an audio story about that migrant’s story.

Because of the sensitive nature of their legal residency status, Texas Public Radio is not able to reveal the names of the project’s participants or the school they attend.

Every year tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors arrive at the southern border causing what has been described as a complex humanitarian crisis.

These minors are often fleeing violence, poverty, and instability in their home countries, forcing them to embark on perilous journeys in search of safety and a better life. Central American countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are particularly afflicted by gang violence, political corruption, and economic deprivation—all situations that prompt many families to make the difficult decision to send their children alone on the dangerous trek to the United States.

The perils these children face en route are harrowing. They traverse treacherous terrains, often falling victim to human traffickers, criminal gangs, and corrupt officials who exploit their vulnerability.

The journey through Mexico to the U.S. border is fraught with physical and psychological peril, including dehydration, starvation, sexual assault, and violence.

Additionally, the journey can be fatal, with many children dying from exposure to harsh conditions or from accidents while traveling atop freight trains, notoriously known as "La Bestia."

Upon arrival at the U.S. border, unaccompanied minors encounter a daunting legal landscape. The U.S. immigration system is complex and navigating it without legal representation can be nearly impossible for these children. In immigration court, they must prove eligibility for asylum, often requiring them to recount traumatic experiences and provide evidence of persecution. The legal hurdles include demonstrating a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Without adequate legal support, many minors struggle to meet these stringent criteria, leading to high rates of deportation.

The U.S. government’s handling of unaccompanied minors has been criticized for inadequate conditions in detention centers, prolonged detention periods, and insufficient access to legal counsel. These challenges underscore the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform that prioritizes the protection and welfare of these vulnerable children. Ensuring they have access to fair legal representation and humane treatment is imperative in addressing the broader issues that drive them to seek asylum in the first place.

The story shared here may sound similar to accounts we have all heard before about unaccompanied minors; however, it is important to hear the individual story—from the young person who actually experienced the desperate situations, from the violence at home to the dangers along the way. In this report, the students create a sense of trust and community and become a part of the endeavor to share their peer's experiences.

Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.
David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi