HOUSTON, TEXAS— A year ago, the nation’s attention across the U.S. was focused on what was described as a surge of immigrants from Central America, many of whom were children unaccompanied by their parents. U.S. immigration authorities detained many of the children and many adults as well, but let thousands free to live with relatives in the United States while awaiting their court hearing on charges of entering the country illegally. Thousands of those immigrants continue efforts to gain legal status, with prospects that are uncertain.
Every day, dozens of people come to the office of Nelson Reyes seeking help on everything from finding employment to filing income tax and pursuing a visa that would allow them to stay in this country legally.
He is the founder and director of the Central American Resource Center, which is located in a shopping center frequented by Latin American immigrants.
“They are coming from a third world country to a new system and they do not know anything about the system here,” said Reyes.
He said the center operates on fees clients pay for services, which he said are much lower than those of law firms uptown. “If someone comes here and wants to fight their case in court, the attorneys up there charge between$4 to $5,000 and we charge here $700, $750, it depends,” he said.
Reyes is not an attorney, but he and his staff can help people with basic procedures that do not always require an attorney. “They have court cases pending so we advise them of what it is they need to file in court in order to get a better chance for their cases,” he stated.
But many thousands of Central Americans seeking refugee status have either been deported or are facing deportation.
Officials say the number of people trying to cross the border this year is less than half of what it was last year, partly because Mexico has cracked down on illegal immigration from Central America.
U.S. officials have set up detention facilities in various parts of the country for minors and for women with small children, and has deported a large number of people who could not convince courts that they had been targeted by drug gangs back home.
Nelson Reyes, who came to the United States in 1990 from El Salvador, said the immigration system is often cruel. “That is why we need a system that is more humane that really understands that we are dealing with kids here that the way we treat them now will have an impact on their life,” he explained.
But, for now, many of these people fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands remain in a nether world, living here, but not able to pursue their own American dream.