LatinaLista — Today is World Refugee Day.
When we think of refugees these days, it’s usually the images in Africa of the different tribes that have been displaced because of war and famine, but we know that refugees exist all over the world — even in the United States.
The dictionary defines refugee as : one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution
Danger has come to mean not just physical danger but danger from severe economic downturns, famine or family or community abuse or a number of different reasons that puts the quality of life at an inherent risk for these people.
In 2002, when Congress passed the Homeland Security Act, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was appointed the new custodians of what the Department of Homeland Security labels “unaccompanied children.” Some analysts feel the more correct term is “separated children.” Each label refers to children who are under 18 and at the time of their apprehension, by either the Border Patrol or DHS officials, are not with a parent or legal guardian.
13-year-old Jose must return to his native El Salvador without his mother.
(Source: Loudoun Times)
That was the case of Jose Andrade. Jose was left behind in El Salvador by his mother who came to the US looking for work. When she arrived, she was granted a visa to work legally in the country but five years passed and Jose missed his mom.
He was staying with an aunt but that family took the money Jose’s mother sent him from her job in the U.S. and pulled him out of school to do errands for the family. When Jose’s mother found out, she knew she had to bring him to the US but there was no way to do it legally.
So, at 11-years-old, Jose and two cousins set out from El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico for the U.S. At the Texas-Mexico border, Jose was caught by border officials and housed in a youth detention center for 9 days until his mother traveled from Virginia to pick him up.
From the moment she picked him up, Jose was classified as a refugee.
In the three years since he’s arrived, in between attending immigration hearings to clarify his status, Jose has thrived in school, is popular with his teachers and became a Boy Scout. Now 13-years-old, Jose knows English and wants to be a policeman, but it’s a dream that is highly unlikely.
Jose’s privileged refugee status has come to an end and DHS says it’s time to treat him like any other undocumented immigrant — deport him back to where he came from — all by himself.
Jose has until July 16 to stay with his mom. His lawyers were able to have Jose granted “voluntary removal” which means that the family has exactly 120 days left before Jose leaves. Though his new status allows him to come back and visit, his mother says there’s no way he can because of the cost and danger involved.
Yet, when Jose turns 18, another five years, he can apply for a visa but seeing that there’s already enormous backlogs in getting immigration papers processed (some estimates at 10-15 years), Jose may not see his mother again until he’s in his 30s.
And Jose’s mother can’t return with him because she still can work in the US and will need that money to send to Jose back in El Salvador and help out with her family expenses in this country which include two US-born children.
Understandably, Jose doesn’t understand why he can’t stay with his mother, and frankly it doesn’t make sense that he cannot.
His mother can legally be in the country so it’s not a matter of rewarding illegal behavior by allowing Jose to stay — it’s a matter of doing what’s right.
Any policy that has as its sole purpose to separate children from their parents is not a good policy and it’s shameful that our court system can’t see through the ludicrousness of this situation and do what is right.
What is right about sending a 13-year-old boy back to live with extended family members when he can live with his own mother?
What is right about upholding an immigration law that does not value the sanctity of family?
What is right about punishing a child simply because he wants to be with his mother?
If Jose stays, he’s already shown that he will be one of those kids who will make the most of his educational opportunities here, not to mention become an asset to his community.
When he returns, who is to say he won’t be afflicted with depression or suffer in other ways because no one can care for a child better than a mother who loves him.
“I want to be with my mom,” Jose said. “I want to develop a career. It’s not good to have to leave when your mother is here.”
Amen to that!