Marta*, age 16, was born and raised in El Salvador, where she lived with her mother, father, brother and sister until just a few months ago. Currently, Marta is in a secure juvenile facility in the United States because she entered the U.S. without status.
Marta reports having a very happy childhood, being involved with her church and that she is very close to all her family members. Now she is separated from everyone she knows in the world, because she had to flee for her life.
One day back home, Marta witnessed a fellow student’s death as he was shot in the back by the gangs on his way home from school. Then the threats against Marta began. Members of the La Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang have repeatedly tried to recruit Marta to assist them in their criminal activities and have threatened to kill her and her family. Marta has been beaten, and threatened with a machete by gang members. At one point, the police intervened by relocating Marta’s family to the countryside, but the gang still located Marta. Few community members are willing to assist her family out of fear of the gang. Marta’s choices were to flee the country, join the criminal gang, or possibly be killed. After being in hiding for months, Marta’s mother sent her to the U.S., to save her daughter’s life. The family continues to be in hiding in El Salvador.
Marta cries repeatedly out of fear for her family’s safety and is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Marta is applying for asylum in the U.S. and has been approved to transfer to a foster care setting while she navigates immigration proceedings with the aid of a pro-bono attorney.
Ana*, age 15, grew up in Totonicapán, Guatemala, living with her biological parents and nine siblings. On an average day, Ana woke up at 5:00 AM to clean the house, and then sewed dresses until 9:00 PM, at which time she would fix dinner for her family and go to bed. Prior to migrating to the U.S., Ana had completed fifth grade before her father decided that her time would be better spent working. The impetus for her migration was the severe physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, who was unable to sustain steady employment and suffered from alcohol abuse. In June of 2013, Ana’s mother secretly arranged for her to travel to the United States in hopes of reunifying with her 30 year-old sister in Houston, Texas. She travelled mostly by car, stopping to sleep in basements and warehouses on her way through Mexico.
Once near the northern border of Mexico, she spent three nights in a trailer while the guide waited on other members of the group to arrive. Ana was given little water and nothing to eat while waiting in the trailer. On the third night in the trailer, the guide attempted to rape Ana, but another traveler pulled him away. The next day, after crossing into Texas, the guide again tried to rape her but his efforts were once again thwarted. Angry at her rejection, the guide abandoned Ana in the middle of the desert and returned to Mexico. Ana continued to walk until she found a farm and was subsequently apprehended by Border Patrol.
Maria* is a 16-year-old girl from Honduras who arrived to the US and was placed in ORR custody in July 2013. She was referred for home study due to having been the victim of sexual abuse at the age of 13. While in Honduras, she had suffered additional abuse that began with harassment in her country of origin by La Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) Gang. Maria was pursued, brutalized and attempts at recruiting her culminated into the brutal beating of her mother and other family members, constant threats of kidnapping, and an eventual kidnapping by MS-13 gang members.
Eventually Maria sought assistance and tried to get out of her confinement and recruitment by the gang. She finally devised a plan to escape, and under the ruse of going “shopping”, the child arranged to escape to her sister’s house. However, when the gang realized that the child had escaped, they surrounded the home to which she fled. Local authorities eventually secured Maria, debriefed her, and helped her relocate to protective custody in another part of the country. The child’s mother insisted that she be moved to the care of a family member (aunt) in a nearby city in Honduras, but this only lasted a short time, since gang members found out this location and pursued and harassed Maria at this location as well. Since this incident, Maria has not had any contact or involvement with this gang, and eventually fled to the United States for fear she would be killed. Maria is currently being cared for by a foster-care family and awaits her court date. * All names were changed to protect children’s’ identity
This is the link to the entire text of Bishop Seitz testimony: http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/upload/BSeitzfinaltest.pdf
The Office of Refugee Resettlement established a parents’ hotline so parents can try to locate their children: 1-800-203-7001