Every month, Border Patrol agents process hundreds of unaccompanied minors. Some turn themselves in, while others are caught crossing the border
The process of crossing the border is one some unaccompanied children don’t fully grasp, and it leaves them in fearful suspense of what the future holds, as they navigate the complicated U.S. immigration system.
Take the example of 16-year-old Dinso Pop Yat.
With a prayer and blessing from his mother in Guatemala, Dinso Pop Yat set his eyes on the land of the free.
“There weren’t any jobs. That’s why I decided to come here,” Pop Yat said.
With just $500 in his pocket, a backpack, and a dream, he set out all by himself.
“Sometimes I didn’t eat because I didn’t have enough money,” Pop Yat said, as he described the conditions he experienced while traveling.
But a journey of more than 2,500 miles came to a halt as he crossed into the U.S. from Piedras Negras, Mexico into Eagle Pass, Texas.
He described the moment he was captured, adding, “Border Patrol saw me, and a lot of cars came, and surrounded me and others.”
Shaken and afraid, he was processed by agents who placed him in a detention center.
“They treat you well,” he said.
But decent treatment didn’t relieve him from worry.
He spent 12 days in an immigration detention center in distress and unsure of the future, until RAICES, a San Antonio, Texas nonprofit that provides free services to immigrants, took on his case.
Just a day later, he was reunited with family in Texas.
Desperate to pursue his dream career, he turned to Posada Guadalupe, a shelter in San Antonio for immigrants, to help him pave the way.
“It sort of evolved into a ministry [primarily] for unaccompanied minors aged out of the detention center,” said Father Phillip Ley.
Father Ley knows the struggles in Central America all too well.
“I was kidnapped. I saw people shot down in the street; a good friend of mine was shot in broad daylight. This was in El Salvador,” he said.
The experience fuels him to keep his door open. Posada Guadalupe—a private, religious nonprofit— is now home to 25 unaccompanied minors.
We help them out by giving them a place to stay, food we give them counseling, we have a spiritual director, Ley said. “We give them direction.”
That helped Pop Yat graduate from John Jay High School, and representation from RAICES attorneys helped him obtain a work visa.
Battling the Stereotype
Pop Yat’s determination to fulfill his dream undercuts the rhetoric that immigrants are criminals, said Veronica Cardona.
“Look at the ones that are actually busting their butts to make money and send back home to their families,” she said.
It’s been four years since Pop Yat, now 20, embraced his family, a sacrifice he describes as painful, but rewarding.
“I feel something inside me that says I have to get ahead and be someone in life,” he added.
Last year he enrolled at North Vista College, and after four years in the U.S, in and out of immigration court, working towards a goal that could be ripped away at any moment, he received the call he had been longing for. He was granted his residency.
“I was really happy,” he said.
Pop Yat said that he is saving money to finally reunite with his family. He hopes to make that happen later this year.
This story formed part of a series on immigrants and the border produced and researched by Ximena Alvarez and Mario Leal of KENS5 San Antonio as part of their reporting project for the 2018 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting Fellowship. Their stories can be viewed here.