In November 2018, President Trump warned the nation about a migrant caravan from Central America approaching the U.S.-Mexico border. Particularly, he expressed concern about potentially dangerous men lurking within the caravan:
“At this very moment, large well-organized caravans of migrants are marching towards our southern border. Some people call it an invasion. …These are tough people in many cases; a lot of young men, strong men and a lot of men that maybe we don’t want in our country.” – Donald J. Trump, November 1, 2018.
In light of this remark, I’d like to talk about a strong young man I met during my work in the U.S.-Mexico Border Clinic. In the interest of maintaining confidentiality, I will use the pseudonym “Jose” to refer to him and “Carla” to refer to his mother.
Jose and Carla came to the U.S. from the Northern Triangle, similar to many clients of the CARA Pro Bono Project. Carla brought her son to the United States because she feared her son would be recruited into the ruthless 18thStreet gang. Often referred to simply as “Dieciocho” (18), the 18th Street gang uses brutal, violent tactics to extort and control people in Central America.
Although he was not even ten years old, Dieciocho had already put a target on Jose’s back. Gangs like Dieciocho frequently use young boys to deliver and receive packages of drugs because the boys appear unsuspicious. For this reason, gangsters began to harass Jose on his walk to school. They threatened to kill him unless he agreed to join the gang.
Despite the threats, Jose refused to give allegiance to Dieciocho. He explained that he really enjoyed going to school and didn’t have any interest in joining a gang. When my clinic partner Rosellen asked what subjects he was studying, his face lit up. Math, Spanish, and a little bit of English – but not too much, yet. His voice had that unmistakable tone indicating a love for learning and curiosity about the world.
Unfortunately, the threats against Jose became worse. Gangsters began to say they knew where Jose lived. Not only would they kill him, they would kill his mother, too. Eventually, threats turned to action. One gangster fired gunshots at Jose — a boy not even ten years old — during his walk to school. The young boy narrowly escaped by hiding in a nearby corner store. Days later, Jose and his mother were chased by gangsters armed with pistols – and again, they managed to outrun the men. Still, Jose refused to do any work on behalf of Dieciocho. After this final incident passed, Carla realized it was no longer safe to stay in her country. She fled with her son to the United States, and eventually the two wound up in a meeting with me in a small trailer in Dilley, Texas to prepare for their credible fear interviews.
President Trump was correct when he said strong men were coming to the United States across our southern border. But, it was not physical strength this young boy possessed. It was strength of character, strength of heart, and strength of mind. It was the courage to stand up in the face of unspeakable and overwhelming oppression. It was the unshakeable bravery of a person I would be proud to call my fellow countryman.
It has been an honor to work with the CARA Pro Bono Project, and a great privilege to work with my colleagues from U.B. who have done truly incredible work this past week.