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Who Are These “Unaccompanied Minors”?

Posted on April 10, 2018 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Find Out from Those Who Know Them Best

By Anthony Enriquez

Director of Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Minors Program

Think of a time during your adolescence when you wanted to run away from home. With luck, the reason was trivial; perhaps your parents did not let you go out on Friday or they made you clean your room when you wanted to play with your friends. You may have managed to pack a bag with clothes for a single night and made it to the corner. And with luck you could return home to the love of your family, maybe a little humbler after seeing how scary the outside world is to the eyes of a lonely child.

There are children who do not have the same luck. Each year, tens of thousands of those children arrive in the United States without their parents or another guardian to care for them. They seek refuge with us because they do not have it in their own communities. They flee from countries where gang violence plagues the streets and controls the countryside. They say that the way to school has become so dangerous that the smartest option is to quit school. They know that the police and the politicians in their countries do not listen to them when they ask to be protected.

There are children who do not even have refuge in their own home. They flee angry and violent adults in their own families. They suffer physical and sexual abuse in the same homes where they should be safe and protected. They see domestic violence up close and daily. They sleep without resting because they do not know what time they are going to be woken up to work under threats of another beating.

These are the children who arrive at our borders after weeks or even months on the road, children like Marta and David, siblings 16 and 17 years old, who lived with their grandparents in El Salvador while their mother was sending them money from New York. They fled El Salvador after months of terrifying harassment and persecution by the MS-13 gang.

A local gang leader followed Marta on her way to school threatening her with kidnapping and rape. To protect her, David would accompany her whenever he could. But one day when they got a knife pointed at them the children had to find a protector. The police did not want to help them. Their grandparents could not do anything because of their advanced age. Therefore, they set out for New York to meet with their mother who had not seen them since infancy. Thanks to municipal support, they received free assistance from an attorney at Catholic Charities and they won their asylum cases.

But what will happen to the other thousands of children headed for cities that do not provide legal services to unaccompanied minors? In an increasingly hostile political environment there is talk of gang children infiltrating through the southern border.

Those of us who work with these children day after day know the truth. These are children in search of protection. These are children who were not born with the same luck as you and me.

We are not going to cover our ears to their pleas. We will not let our worst instincts of isolation and suspicion condemn them to death.

 

Contact Catholic Charities NY if you know an unaccompanied minor child who needs help

Read Anthony Enriquez’ full editorial in Spanish in El Diario news