They called it “the beast”, and they mounted it with no saddle or reins.
Riding on the top of a speeding train was only one leg of the journey that 15 year old Ana Belia and her brother Luis Miguel took from their native Guatemala and the domestic abuse they suffered at the hands of their father to a corner on Grand Avenue and Ferry Street in New Haven, where a Friday evening rally of immigrant rights activists from the group Unidad Latina en Accion, (ULA) are fighting to make sure that they-and others with a similar story-are not sent back.
With President Barack Obama holding off on any attempt to reform the deportation process until after the November midterm elections, the removals-a record 419,384 in 2012 and then 368,644 the next year-continue, which ULA says is why immigrant families with undocumented individuals cannot afford to wait.
“We’re coming out to send a message to President Obama,” says ULA Organizer Megan Fountain through a megaphone during the rally. “No more delays.”
Through the series of speakers and chants of, “Not one more…deportation!” Ana Belia and Luis Miguel stand in the background against a car in the C-Town parking lot, quiet for the most part. At the end of this month-they have separate probate court dates of October 28 and October 31, although they will try to get a joint hearing-the pair will find out whether or not they are to become two more deportations.
The probate judge will either send them on to an immigration court, where they can petition for a Visa-the first step on the path to a permanent green card-or hand them a deportation order. The latter would mean retracing every painful step of the journey, which they open up about when asked.
“It was an awful experience-the cold, the hunger, the heat, the thirst,” Ana Belia says using Fountain as a translator. “We almost didn’t make it. I didn’t think we could continue walking because the hunger was so extreme.”
They walked far enough to get caught by Border Patrol and sent to a detention facility, where the two felt as if they had never left the elements.
“They call it the Ice Box, because you suffer extreme cold,” Ana Belia says. “They treat you like a thing. They don’t treat you like a human being.”
That was for two days. Then they spent a month and a half in a juvenile shelter before receiving humanitarian parole-which grants individuals temporary permission to enter the United States “due to a compelling emergency”-and coming to New Haven to live with an older brother.
Ana Belia and Luis Miguel are part of what has been an influx of youth migrants from poverty and violence ridden Central American countries-namely Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras-that hit border detention facilities and grabbed news headlines nationwide this summer.
Authorities detained 46,932 minors attempting to enter the United States this year-up from 38,759 in 2013, according to data from the Pew Research Center. In 2014, 84 percent have been like Ana Belia and Luis Miguel: teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17, but increasingly, they’re getting younger.
Last year 9 percent of the youth apprehended by border patrol were 12 years old or younger. That number grew to 16 percent this year, according to the Pew Research Center. From the 2013 to 2014, the number of underage migrants detained by immigration enforcement jumped from 3,162 to 6,675. Those 5 years old and younger are also coming in greater numbers-785 children in that age bracket were taken into custody entering the country as opposed to last year’s 283, according to the Pew Research Center.
Their reasons-such as a lack of economic opportunities and threats from gangs and drug cartels-vary, but a common thread in each story seems to be the perception that the problems they face are ones that a new life here can fix.
Ana Belia has just started attending Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven. This is the first opportunity she has had to receive an education since she was forced to quit school 3 years ago to do what she described as “heavy labor” on a full-time basis. Ana Belia says that she has been working since she was 7.
“Here I don’t suffer violence,” she says. “I have a chance to go to school. There, [in Guatemala] I had to work and the economy is very poor.”