By Alexandra Starr
New York Magazine
Carlos, a soon-to-be-19-year-old from Honduras, is most fond of pastimes and people who bring on temporary amnesia. His former girlfriend, Maria, was one such happy distraction. He plays soccer every Saturday in the Bronx at Mullally Park, just a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. That helps, too. “I concentrate so much,” he says, “that I forget about everything else.”
Most of the memories Carlos would like to lose come from the trip he made from Honduras to the United States as an unaccompanied migrant two years ago. He fled because it was his best chance of having an adulthood. His hometown San Pedro de Sula has the highest homicide rate in the Americas. Once, gang members on motorcycles arrived at a park where he had been playing soccer and opened fire. A mushy white scar on his right calf records where a bullet pierced his skin. At 15, he saw a close friend shot in front of him. As a witness, Carlos would either have to join the gang responsible or be murdered. He went to live at an aunt’s house, an uncle’s, another aunt’s — at each, gang members arrived, threatening him. “I told my mother that if I was going to die, it would be trying to get out,” he says. She gave him $150 and he boarded a bus to Guatemala…
More than 10,000 unaccompanied child migrants were apprehended at the border in June 2014 alone. A public relations campaign warning Central Americans against the journey, combined with a Mexican crackdown on migrants boarding la Bestia, helped reduce the number of arrivals by two thirds by the end of the summer. Nonetheless, advocates estimate that some 74,000 children and teenagers will cross into the United States this year. That’s almost double the figure from 2013. Aside from Texas, New York has taken in more of these kids than any other state.
In part because of geography, Carlos stands a better chance than most of being permitted to stay. As a Central American, he is entitled to a court hearing to determine if he will be deported. (Mexican children, in contrast, can be screened and sent back by border patrol agents.) And, in a break with the past, the Office of Refuge Resettlement — the part of the Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for the unaccompanied migrants — is picking up the tab for legal representation of children who are housed in their juvenile shelters in New York.
Because Carlos was released to his grandmother in New York City, it also meant he could access a medical and legal clinic operated by Catholic Charities, the Children’s Health Fund, and Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Every other Wednesday evening at the hospital, he and other unaccompanied teenage migrants in the city can receive medical check-ups, attend a group counseling session, and meet with an attorney.
Read the full story in New York Magazine