Migrant girl’s solo journey shows risks parents take

Adriana Gomez Licon
Associated Press
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Mission, Texas — The Honduran girl, 7 years old and surrounded by strangers in the pre-dawn darkness, was determined to keep pace with the other migrants headed for the U.S. border.

Her father, she told an Associated Press journalist, had traveled with her by bus for 22 days across Mexico. Then, he went back to their homeland — but not before he placed her in the hands of a young man who was to help her cross the river into Texas.

A 7-year-old migrant girl from Honduras, left, walks with Fernanda Solis, 25, center, also of Honduras, and an unidentified man as they approach a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center to turn themselves in while seeking asylum moments after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Mission, Texas.

“He just said to go on my own and take care of myself,” she said.

What happened to the man who was to be her guide is unclear, but the pony-tailed girl met up with a group and pressed on, vigorously swinging her arms to keep up as they trekked north through the Rio Grande Valley on Sunday under a half-moon. Temperatures had dipped into the mid-50s; the girl wore a yellow jacket decorated with cartoonish drawings of trains, and a black mask to protect her from COVID-19.

The AP is not using the girl’s name. It does not normally name children without permission from their parents, and the identity of her father could not be obtained.

But her journey illustrates the extraordinary risks taken by migrant parents to get their children across the border, even if it means abandoning them for the most perilous part of the trip.

Nearly 9,500 migrant children arrived at the border in February, up 60% from a month earlier. The government is rushing to set up more facilities to house them and speeding up the process to place them with relatives in the U.S. The city and county of San Diego said Monday that its downtown convention center would host migrant children for an average of 30 to 35 days.

A 7-year-old migrant girl from Honduras, right, tries to keep up with Fernanda Solis, 25, also of Honduras, as they approach a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center to turn themselves in while seeking asylum moments after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Mission, Texas.

Single adults are almost always expelled, while families are sometimes expelled and sometimes allowed to remain in the United States to pursue asylum.

The girl did reach the United States. A fellow Honduran migrant, Fernanda Solis, 25, said she found her crying alone on a dirt path north of the Rio Grande after midnight, as a helicopter hovered overhead and border agents addressed migrants through a loudspeaker.

They pressed ahead to a country where the girl knows no one but a family member in South Carolina.

“That’s how she acts. She is brave,” Solis said.

The girl said her father had no more money to cross the border with her.

“He lost his job,” she said, simply.

Solis said she was able to gather that the girl’s father had recently tried to cross with her, but they were both quickly expelled back to Reynosa, Mexico, under pandemic-related powers the Trump administration invoked. Biden has kept the powers — known as Title 42 for the section of an obscure public health law — in place.

A federal judge halted expulsions of unaccompanied children in November, after the Trump administration had turned back at least 8,800. But an appeals court panel of three Trump-appointed judges ruled in January that they could resume. Biden, in a break with Trump, decided to release children to relatives with notices to appear in immigration courts.

Jennifer Harbury, a Texas-based human rights advocate, speaks to The Associated Press about the dangers Central America migrants face when they are deported to Mexico and left in violent border towns, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Brownsville, Texas.

The Honduran girl turned herself over to Customs and Border Protection; the agency did not respond to a request for information about her whereabouts.

Her story is being repeated again and again along the border.

“The parents are saying ‘We are not going to make it. We have to be very realistic here, but if I send my child up to the bridge, and they cross alone, they’ll have to take them in,’” said Jennifer Harbury, a Texas-based human rights advocate.

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