The subjects are jailed minor boys and girls awaiting deportation, hearing or trial. The facility where they are kept is among the best, both physically and operationally. It is an older but well maintained juvenile detention facility, with a large gymnasium, an astro-turf sports field and an extensive library. There are many opportunities provided by volunteer groups, and various departments at a nearby College…For example, the art department promotes inmate art works; the results are visible inside and outside: sculptures, mosaics, and murals, created by juvenile inmates: The facility is uncrowded; local inmates are housed separately from the illegal alien children — all, by definition are under age 18– The subjects of these brief interviews are confined to a secure facility because they have a violent or criminal past, or both. They speak, read and understand their primary language fairly well but their ability in English is very limited.
One never knows, in such circumstances, what is exaggeration or lies, but I have been doing similar interviews for a number of years, and in time one becomes more able to evaluate them. These, of course, were children; yet they were far more frank, open and expressive, less manipulative, than many adults.
Considering the alleged situation in their country of origin, and the unique opportunities available in the facility ( the jail), one might think they would be happy, or at least feel fortunate. But they are not, despite nourishing food, shelter, medical care, training in English, access to books and both video and classroom teaching.Why unhappy?
First, they are children, and moreover, teens, who by some law of nature are often unhappy and unhinged. Second, they are not free where they are. As Children their views are short-sighted and self focused; as humans they value freedom. It should not be surprising that they don’t like the strange food; but they hate worse the confinement. They want out; even if they go back to a situation that was dangerous or intolerable, it would be a place where they might Try Again to return. The reader may note that most had somehow had access to enough money to hire a coyote. Why? I cannot say, but wonder whether if criminal or drug activities were responsible, directly or indirectly. Their individual stories are moving. Here are condensed versions of a few.
Male Age 16, El Salvador Crossed on foot TX in 2014 at age 14; coyote $7k paid by parents. However, after crossing had no further assistance. Lived on street, Las Vegas; arrested for theft. Sleepless, wants sleep med and pain med for back problem. We spoke at some length about the dangers of using addictive medications for sleep or chronic pain, both best treated by being active physically! I doubt he wanted to hear such stuff, though; he didn’t seem impressed.
Male Age 17, Honduras Coyote paid $ 10k by family, 5k deposit, 5k due on arrival. Arrived age 14. Reached a relative in Las Vegas but later arrested after caught in robbery. Says he may be sent back, but will return, and is taking classes in English. The food is terrible in the USA, but the country is great!
Male age 17, El Salvador Crossed the border at San Diego asking for asylum. Sent to Oregon, placed in a shelter; but fell in with folk who lived on the street. Was arrested for theft and assault. Allowed that the request for asylum was not really valid; it was just a door that he opened. If he is sent back he will come again, this time without a claim for asylum… will cross some way, probably on foot. ‘ Better illegal here than legal there.’
Male Age 16, Honduras Dad paid for coyote, but when he got here dad sent word: ‘Good Luck, you are on your own’. Lived on the street. Arrested for assault. Expects release soon, wants to go back to Honduras because he has family there who are not without economic advantages. I asked: drug business? Yes. ‘Better a rich criminal there than poor and illegal here’.
Male Age 16, Mexico Was a ‘mule’ for marijuana smuggling; entered into Arizona on foot, but was immediately caught. Sent to Phoenix. Expects to be deported. However, in Sonora, his home, he doubts he will be able to avoid going back to being a mule. Why? Realistically there is no other choice
Male age 17, Honduras Caught while crossing near Houston; has family somewhere in US but they did not respond to attempts to locate them. Seems a bright kid, communicative, but didn’t know who his namesake, Roosevelt, was. I told him briefly about two presidents by that name. both, and he plans to look them up in the library and ask the English teacher to comment.
Female Age 14, Mexico Coyote crossed border AZ in a car trunk. Placed on bus to Las Vegas. Arrested prostitution and theft. Jailed then transferred here. Is awaiting hearing, pending transfer motion. On zoloft and resperidol not sure what it is or why. C/O tooth problem. Whether released or sent back home thinks she will return one way or another, this time with some English. She understands she has no skills and no advantages except quite a few years ahead for profiting from her looks. I expressed surprise that plan in place at her age, but she looked at me sideways, and commented that she lives in the real world where people have to deal not with ideas but with facts; besides, she said, ‘I have a good connections in Vegas.’
Male Age 16, Honduras Crossed on foot to reach his uncle here. But the uncle was unable to take him in. Lived on street; theft, prostitution, drug abuse. Arrested states he was ‘beat up’ and remanded to Foster care. Has HIV, probable source uncle? Hep C?He doesn’t know. On medication now. I asked him about his unusual first name. He said it was from a famous poet; he knew nothing else, but says he likes poetry. I suggested he try to look up two poems that may have something to do with his unusual last name. The first is by Oscar Wilde:
The lily’s withered chalice falls
Around its rod of dusty gold,
And from the beech-trees on the wold
The last wood-pigeon coos and calls.
The gaudy leonine sunflower
Hangs black and barren on its stalk,
And down the windy garden walk
The dead leaves scatter, – hour by hour.
Pale privet-petals white as milk
Are blown into a snowy mass:
The roses lie upon the grass
Like little shreds of crimson silk.
The other poem is by Brazilian Eduardo Alves da Costa, fairly easy to understand for Spanish speakers: Essentially: The first night they robbed a flower from our garden. We said nothing. The second night they openly trampled the rest of our flowers. We said nothing. Until the weakest among them entered our house by night and stole our light; and knowing of our fear, ripped our voice from our throats; then we could say nothing.
Na primeira noite eles se aproximam
e roubam uma flor
do nosso jardim.
E não dizemos nada.
Na segunda noite, já não se escondem:
pisam as flores,
matam nosso cão,
e não dizemos nada.
Até que um dia,
o mais frágil deles
entra sozinho e nossa casa,
rouba-nos a luz e,
conhecendo nosso medo,
arranca-nos a voz da garganta.
E já não podemos dizer nada.
Comment: These histories pose a problem: they put a face on illegal immigrants even though in this case they are criminals. The last three cases in particular suggest that it is risky to look at them, or to hear them, too closely. The same is often true of all criminals, and illegal immigrants. While our country cannot open our borders to billions of people from all over the world, we share a hemisphere with many other Americans, North and South; we share a common cultural and ethnic past with people on our borders.
In fact, as always, the USA needs immigrants. If all illegal aliens were to disappear instantly, there would be an economic and social crisis here; in gardening, building, hotel maintenance, restaurant work, and farming, to say the least… and arguably, even in child-bearing! We North Americans are too often unwilling to raise enough children to replace ourselves. That is too great a sacrifice! Houses, cars, travel, education, health care, and entertainment are expensive priorities, and it costs several hundred thousand dollars and tens of thousands of hours to produce and to raise a child conscientiously.
A child, as often claimed, is a hostage to fate: a risk. But without children there is only past. Frankly, it seems possible that within 20 years we will offer to pay people to immigrate to our big beautiful USA. To relate stories like those above is not meant to glorify illegal immigrant children; yet, their desperation and decisive, high risk attempt to change their lives is the recurring story of the USA. Unfortunately, many of these illegal children come from criminal and drug dealing environments, or worse; they bring that with them. Some are MS13 members. But the first illegal immigrants who crossed the atlantic in wooden ships were often undesirables, rebels, or troublemakers. Some were criminals. All are kin to those, criminals or not, who pay coyotes or cross nations and deserts to reach our beloved land.
Adults who are illegal immigrants today are people whose journeys are even more hazardous, more sacrificial, than that of most child criminals; yet they also reveal an intense desire to find a better life in the US. As a consequence they create a better North America, and in a wider sense, better Americas.
My son Fred, a master carpenter, once again this April, drove from South Dakota to Baja California pulling a trailer full of equipment. He joined a group of Methodists to build small homes. In this case that is not simply a charitable act; the recipients of homes are limited to people who 1) work 2) have their own a half hectare lot, where they live in very marginal conditions, and 3) have children who regularly attend school. I go to build or to work as a translator for Lighting for Literature, providing small solar lighting units in the homes of the same kind of families, so schoolchildren have light to study in the evenings.
The clear majority of such families have a connection with the USA; it is generally with a close relative, usually one who has, during most of a lifetime, regularly sent money to their relatives to make their present and future more promising. That sort of story of immigrants and cross culture exchange is as old as time. It is the stuff of progress, and of civilization.