Hope for the Innocent Child Victims
No one talks about the confusion. The brief moments between the realization that this is, in fact, happening, that the person who was once safe is safe no longer. The seconds stretch into hours, sometimes years, as familiar hands that once went about their daily business of working, comforting, eating, suddenly become weapons designed to wound, inflict, beat, and molest, and they’re aimed at you. It is a magic trick of the worst kind, and one that grievously harms children who will, over time and repetition, come to expect nothing but terror and harm from not only their abusers, but the entire world.
When Kendrea and Antonio’s bonds of trust were broken, they were in a position of perfect vulnerability. After the Honduran President was ousted from office in 2009 by a military coup, Honduras’ civic and economic life collapsed, leaving its citizens to welter in poverty and chaos while the government scrambled to reassemble itself and retain power. In the wake of this structural catastrophe, Honduras became the country with the highest murder rate in the world, and its population began to flee for countries with more stability. Kendrea and Antonio’s parents followed the outgoing tide and left for the U.S. so that they could send money back to Honduras to financially support their children. Kendrea and Antonio were left with their grandmother, and, for a while, all seemed well.
The shift in their grandmother began a few months after the children came to stay, and at first they couldn’t understand why she had become so volatile and moody, why she had begun hitting them without cause. Kendrea and her brother believed that if they could be more obedient, perhaps less seen and heard, that their grandmother would stop hitting them, but their dedication to acquiescence made no impact as their grandmother began striking them with any object that was available; shoes, belts, and books all became part of her arsenal. When their parents would call, their grandmother would hold the phone so that they couldn’t speak out against her or tell what their lives had become. She stifled them, and reinforced their newly made prison.
When their grandmother began dating Cesar, he was already a fugitive; known to be dangerous and activitely pursued by the police, he moved in with them quickly and began raping Kendrea almost immediately. After the first time, Kendrea hoped that it would be the last, but this wasn’t the case. Despite her attempts to avoid the home and stay out of his way, Cesar began to reinforce his violence with threats, telling her that he would kill her if she told anyone about the abuse. He threatened Antonio with the same fate. The death threats became their tipping point, and the children, aged thirteen and eleven, fled the home and made their way to the United States where they, with the help of pro bono legal agency Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, were reunited with their parents and baby sister.
They arrived in Texas at a time of great increase in unaccompanied child refugees, when the number of apprehensions between 2015 and 2016 had shot up by 78%. In 2016 alone, 27,754 unaccompanied minors were detained at the Texas border. The majority of these children are from what is known as Central America’s Northern Triangle, which consists of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, all nations that have in recent years been ground down by unrest, high crimes rates, and poverty. The inrush of these children has precipitated expansion programs by the United States Customs and Border Protection agencies, which have widened the categories of asylum seekers eligible for refugee status in the U.S., focusing on children and families which contain qualified children.
Even with this new flexibility, former Homeland Security Secretary Johnson stated, “Border security alone cannot overcome the powerful push factors of poverty and violence that exist in Central America. Walls alone cannot prevent illegal migration.” This has played out in recent years with sharp, continual increases in refugee seekers, particularly children traveling alone. This is where Texas agencies like Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, or HRI, step in. When Kendrea and Antonio arrived in the U.S., they were placed in removal proceedings before the Dallas Immigration Court with one opportunity to apply for asylum status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before their hearings. As children without legal representation or financial means, HRI walked them through the legal hearings, filings, and processes, and ensured that they had a legal team working for their benefit each step of the way. Though they didn’t receive decisions on their cases until April of 2017, both children won their cases due in large part to the dedicated and pro bono work of this legal team.
Without the non-profit assistance of lawyers and legal advocates, children like Kendrea and Antonio would have escaped horrendous personal and environmental circumstances only to face a closed door, condemning them to a life without family, home, provision, or safety. Hemmed in on all sides, they would have been returned to their violent, unstable origins to await whatever outcome fate had set aside for them, and all of this would occurred behind closed doors in the complex and shuttered settings of the U.S. immigration systems. Now that Kendrea and Antonio have been granted asylum by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, HRI has filed for joint motions for their removal proceedings to be terminated.
With the national political tide turning against immigration and the numbers of asylum seekers continuing to increase, stories like Kendrea and Antonio’s have become more and more common. Despite these challenges, advocates like HRI are working throughout the country to give shelter to the most vulnerable global citizens. As Bill Holston, Executive Director of HRI, has stated, “There are so few things that people seem to agree on now. But surely one of those is that no child should suffer acts of abuse and violence. We are proud to be a part of obtaining safety, refuge, and security for children here at HRI.” In the coming months and years of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration reforms, the hope for vulnerable and courageous children like Kendrea and Antonio rests in the hands of organizations which believe just that.
-Kelsey Capps, Contributor, HRI Committee Member