02 May 2021
After a 3,000-kilometer trip, 16-year-old Jose Luis Boyeduana arrived in the United States.
At the end of 2020, he decided to travel from his home in Ecuador to reunite with his parents living in the U.S. It had been 13 years since he had seen them. Boyeduana had been living with his grandparents in Ecuador since he was three years old.
"Happiness can only be found with your parents," he said.
Boyeduana crossed in January through Miguel Aleman, an area in Mexico near the US-Mexico border. He said he was held for two months at a federal immigrant holding center in Roma, Texas.
Tens of thousands of children who are not with their families have been stopped at the U.S. border with Mexico in recent months. President Joe Biden's administration has struggled to find places to put them.
The U.S. government has opened about 14 new shelters to house immigrant children. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently told reporters his administration will also open shelters on the Mexican side of the border.
As of April 22, more than 23,000 migrant children were being held by the U.S. government.
These unaccompanied children arriving at the border must go through a two-step process before they are released to close relatives in the U.S. First, they are taken to a border patrol station. Within three days, they must be taken to the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services and placed in centers designed for children.
Under a new Biden administration policy, some children and families that cross the border without legal permission can stay. That is different from the policy of the administration of former President Donald Trump. The Biden administration is continuing to expel adult immigrants and families with older children.
U.S. officials returned Boyeduana to his mother and father in March. Both live in the United States. The parents had to prove they were his legal guardians.
"This happiness is forever, being with my son," said Carlos Lozada, Boyeduana's father.
The message is to wait
The Biden administration has said that many migrants crossing the border will not be successful if they choose to seek asylum.
Roberta Jacobson is a Biden administration official. She is telling immigrants that many people seeking asylum will be sent back.
"So really the message is to wait because there will be more options," she told VOA.
To seek asylum in the United States, a person must prove they faced mistreatment in their home country for at least one of five reasons. Those reasons are race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion.
Why they leave
Immigrants have many reasons for coming to the United States. But these may or may not meet the standards for asylum protection.
Many people crossing the border illegally say they want to escape violence, poverty and even natural disasters. Many places in Central America, for example, have been affected by hurricanes.
Eda Cristelia Melendez is a Honduran in her 70s. She is currently living with her young granddaughter in a shelter in Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
She said U.S. officials sent her granddaughter and her back to Mexico after they tried to cross the border. The girl's mother told Melendez to send the child across the border by herself. Melendez refused.
"‘Have you thought [of what could happen] if the girl goes alone?'" she remembered asking.
U.S. officials agree with the grandmother's concerns.
Emily Mendrala is with the State Department Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. She said, "We're working with partners...to deter the dangerous travel of those unaccompanied children."
Republican lawmakers in Congress blame the Biden administration for the increase in border arrivals.
Representative John Katko is a Republican from New York and member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. He said he warned the Biden administration of quickly changing immigration policy.
We "warned of this impending crisis months ago," he said.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Aline Barros and Celia Mendoza reported this story for Voice of America. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
unaccompanied –adj. without another person; alone
guardian –n. someone who takes care of another person or of another person's property
option –n. the ability to choose between two or more things
expensive – adj. costing a lot of money
standard -n. : a level of quality or set of conditions that must be met in order to be accepted
deter-v. to cause (someone) to decide not to do something
impending-adj. happening or likely to happen soon