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Breaking Barriers: The Undocumented Experience

Undocumented immigrants have long caused controversy in this country, but now not only do they face the struggle to assimilate, they must also face the fear of being deported under the Trump administration. 

“[His policy] is going to affect families in big ways, especially undocumented minors who could potentially have a parent who is deported, or if there are mixed status families, such as the child was born here in the U.S., and the parents were not,” CSUN Chicano/Chicana Studies professor Melissa Galvan said. “This could break up families in very important, intangible ways, and it’s quite sad.” 

The United States-Mexico border remains the most active border checkpoint in the world. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Obama administration deported 2.5 million people, the most in U.S. history. President Trump has proposed deporting all undocumented immigrants in this country, an estimated 11 million people. There were over 75,000 arrests of family units at the Southwest border last year. Immigrants who have been separated from family members by the border often don’t have much interaction with their loved ones. Friendship Park, on the border between San Diego and Tijuana, allows people to interact, but with limited time and touch. The Tijuana side of the park is open all day, but the San Diego side is open only on Saturday and Sunday from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.

Among those stopped at the border last year were 60,000 unaccompanied minors. Undocumented unaccompanied minors are children who travel to this country without parents or legal guardians. These minors come not only from Mexico, but also from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They are fleeing from gang recruitment, violence, poverty and prostitution. If they do make it into the U-S, they face problems of assimilation like any immigrant, and most have language barriers that leave them vulnerable. They are fearful due to their disadvantages and their uncertainty about the future. Their fear can keep them from getting legal help. One resource for them in Los Angeles is Casa Libre.

“We provide any source you can imagine,” Casa Libre director Federico Bustamante said. “Not [always] directly, but we have referral sources and partnerships in place to provide any service that you want. It is residential, mental health, legal services, anything you can possibly imagine, but what we really provide, and what really has the most individual impact on these young men, is a surrogate family. These kids have come from some cases of extreme abandonment, abuse, neglect, no consistency in their lives. The root problem is that lack of consistency and unconditional support. Casa Libre becomes that.  Through everything we do, whether providing legal services or educational services, we are providing a surrogate family.”

Casa Libre provides housing and services for children and families who are homeless. This may include storing belongings until a new home is found. Casa Libre also provides life skills that can be used anywhere.  The children are taught how to cook, do laundry, and prepare for careers.  

“Ultimately [we] really allow these kids to become kids again,” Bustamante said. “They are coming from undeclared war zones, wearing little suits of armor. When they get here and become part of the surrogate family, they are able to enjoy that last part of childhood, and benefit from all of the other services that we have at our disposal.” 

Some undocumented immigrants and unaccompanied minors have been able to get permission to stay in this country to study under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But its future is also uncertain under the Trump administration.

“One of the biggest things that I have noticed that is a concern, is having to graduate and not have certainty in what the future is going to hold for us, and for myself,” CSUN student Maria Aispuro said. “I am a DACA recipient, and I don’t know if that will be taken away, and I’m not sure if I will have a job, and my family is at risk of deportation.”

Bustamante says, across the country, there isn’t enough support to help all the children who need it.

“I hope there will be more allies of undocumented immigrants in the future,” Public Counsel social worker Jose Ortiz said. “People come here for a reason. They don’t come here because they want to be here. They need something that we have.”

Moderator: Jose Duran

Producer: Luzita Pineda

Anchor: Lexi Wilson

Social Media Editors: Adam Hajost and Arianna Takis

Reporters: Jose Duran, Adam Hajost, Luzita Pineda, Rosa Rodriguez, Arianna Takis and Lexi Wilson

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