I go to the comedor twice a week, and that means allowing my heart to be broken over and over. Yesterday, we fed about 70 people, but some days we’ve fed twice that number. You meet folks and you hear their stories.
When I first started, I don’t remember there being that many 16-year-olds or families with young kids. Last week, we had at least five kids, unaccompanied, who were going to try and cross the desert into the United States. The reason that they come can be expressed in one word: desperation. It’s poverty and violence all woven together.
The cartels have such a hold on people’s lives in Honduras, which is where most of the young folks come from. They are decent young kids who don’t want to be part of the gang life. The pressure to join the gang is overwhelming. There’s no choice. You have to get involved… or leave.
I met a 17-year-old boy back in November. He did what some youngsters do and walked over to the border and turned himself in, asking customs people for asylum literally at the border. These minors are taken to Phoenix, Arizona for processing. What then happens to these kids, I don’t know.
Larry took this photo the day that these two young men, both 18, tried to cross into the US, were picked up by Border Patrol and were deported back to Mexico.
There’s a children’s shelter in Nogales, run by the Mexican government for minors deported from the United States. There was this 17-year-old boy there who spoke English. I was chatting with him and I asked if he was going to try and cross again. He told me, “I’m going to try however many times it takes until I turn 18.” What it boils down to is that until he’s 18, he can enter a juvenile system instead of going to jail, which is what happens to adults caught attempting to cross multiple times. So that kid was going to keep trying until he made it.
We also have families come through each week. I met one really young couple. The father was 16, the mother was 14 and the baby was 6 months old. They were from southern Mexico. It was extremely cold that day. I had some hats and gloves in my car and I gave it to them for the baby. We mostly don’t interfere with people’s choice to cross or not to cross. But with this young couple, we were all telling them: “You can’t do this. You are all going to die. It’s too cold. You are too young.” Often these kids feel invincible. They think they are young and strong, that they’ll make it through the desert. But they have no idea.
This father, age 16, and son were preparing to cross the Sonoran desert into the United States.
I don’t know what their final decision was. I talked to the 16-year-old for a little while. He was insistent that they had to go. They had nothing. They had no plan. They didn’t even know where they were going. They were just desperate. And so young.