Nearly 60,000 undocumented children have crossed the border between the United States and Mexico since October 2013. Some of the children have made their way to St. Louis.
Kristine Walentik, an attorney at Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry in St. Louis, says many of the organization's recent clientele are coming from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in children as well as single mothers with kids,” Walentik said. The forces that play into the development of this trend will be the focus of a panel discussion Thursday night (Aug. 7) at the Missouri History Museum. The influx St. Louis is seeing may increase if the area welcomes more.
Some unaccompanied youth have been placed in foster care or shelters throughout the country, but not yet in St.Louis. Last Friday, St. Louis area officials announced plans to request federal funds to assist and shelter children.
However, most of the Central American children who've crossed the boarder are placed with relatives in the United States.
One youth who reunited with family in St. Louis, is Carla Briones.
Carla fled Honduras in May. After crossing the border, the 15 year old was sent to St. Louis where her parents reside. She hadn’t seen them in 14 years. You can listen to Carla and her father share their story below.
Carla tells of the danger in her native country, of her father being shot, which led her parents to flee. She was left with her grandmother, who is now too frail to care for her granddaughter. To make the journey, Carla bought passage with a coyote. Shortly after crossing the border, she was taken in by immigration officers. Carla was eventually sent to St. Louis where she reunited with her parents.
As she waits for a court date, she says, “If I had to go back to Honduras, I would feel very afraid because I would have to separate again from my parents and I would feel horrible. I don’t know what would become of me.”
A community discussion
Carla will share her story this Thursday as part of a community discussion at the Missouri History Museum. The event is being hosted by Latinos en Axion STL, the St. Louis Interfaith Committee on Latin America, and Catholic Charities of St. Louis.
Shona Clarkson, of the Interfaith Committee on Latin America, said the main purpose of the event is to provide background on the crisis to the community.
“The border crisis is getting a lot of attention in the media right now, and I think that there is a lot of back and forth,” Clarkson said. “This is just to clarify the root cause of migration, the policies that have influenced this migration and also the ways that people in St. Louis can respond.”
Alfredo Chavez, president of Latinos en Axion, says this crisis is directly impacting families in St. Louis.
“It’s not just at the border it’s everywhere,” Chavez said. “They don’t come here and say ‘I’m here. Feel sorry for me.’ No, they come here because they want to have a life. We are not talking about a better life ... No they want to have a life.”
Next steps unknown
The crisis has still not been addressed on a federal level. Last week, Congress failed to pass legislation to address the broader crisis before leaving for a month-long recess.
The youth who have crossed the boarder are awaiting immigration hearings.
As for whether or not many of the unaccompanied youth will be granted permission to stay, Walentik of the Legal Assistance Ministry, says immigration hearings are dealt with on a case by cases basis.
“Every case is different, it depends on the situation of why they came and what going back would mean for them,” she said.
Carla is still waiting on her hearing date. She and her family are looking for legal help, but Carla’s father said he is worried about his family being torn apart.
“There wasn't a day that I didn't dream of holding her in my arms. Because it wasn't just a day that I didn't get to see her, it was 15 years,” he said. "We are in this fight, fighting for her to stay with us.”