By Loren Elliott
TEXICO, N.M. (Reuters) – Seventeen-year old Carolina is putting on some snazzy shoes and make-up, talking excitedly to her friends on her phone, getting ready to go out for a party.
The mobile home that she shares with her mother and two younger siblings in Texico, New Mexico, is hardly luxurious. But this town provides her with something that she did not have in her former home in San Pedro Sula, Honduras – safety.
Here, at least, she can go out.
“There are many gang members (in San Pedro Sula) and they are basically in charge, the streets are really dangerous,” her mother, Orfa, said in an interview earlier this month. “I almost never went out, I stayed at home with the children.”
Reuters is withholding the surnames of the family to protect their identity because of their uncertain status and fear of Honduran gangs.
Their troubles in Honduras deepened after Orfa separated from the children’s father, leaving her with no source of income and little chance of finding work.
Then Carolina’s school friend was raped by gang members, and her daughter was told that “she was next,” Orfa said.
Orfa set out with her three children in early 2018 to make the approximately 2,700-mile (4,300-km) journey through Mexico to the United States. They joined one of the ‘caravans’ of thousands of Central American migrants that have made the trip over the past year in hopes of securing asylum in the United States.
An incensed U.S. President Donald Trump has called the migrants “a tremendous onslaught,” sent troops to the border, and pushed for tougher controls and a far more extensive border wall.
After a grueling six-week journey of walking, riding on top of trains, and hitching lifts, in which the family relied largely on the kindness of strangers to eat, they wound up at a shelter in Tijuana. The Mexican border city has become the temporary home for hundreds of caravan migrants, who wait for their turn, sometimes for months, to formally request asylum in the United States.
Accompanied by minors, Orfa’s turn to apply came after a week. The family was transferred to a detention center in Texas, and then released from custody to await future court appearances, suggesting authorities believed the family had demonstrated what the U.S. government calls “credible fear” of returning home. Trump has derided this practice, referring to it as “catch and release.”
In San Antonio’s bus terminal, the family and other caravan members said emotional goodbyes as they took buses to different parts of the United States.
Gazing out of a Greyhound bus window, Orfa’s children saw the blue skies and shrubland of New Mexico for the first time. They have been in Texico since May, living on trailer sites where their cousins and extended family were already.
They are adjusting to life in the United States – shopping at Walmart, learning to drive, adopting a dog. Carolina has become good friends with her Honduran neighbors, Jefferson and Sulmy.
But the children are unable to go to school without proof of identity, Orfa said. Finding food for them when she was not allowed to work was challenging.
And hanging over their heads is the decision yet to come on whether they can stay or must return to Honduras. Most asylum claims from Central Americans are ultimately rejected.
“I want to give the children what I can, have them go to school,” said Orfa. “They are the important ones. It is not easy here, but maybe the children can study and achieve something.”
(hoto essay at: https://reut.rs/2V1g0D0)
(Reporting by Loren Elliott, Writing by Rosalba O’Brien, Editing by Julie Marquis)