'A Last Resort': Guatemalan Father In NC Shares How He Brought His Four Youngest Children Across The Border
Earlier this year, thousands of unaccompanied minors arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, sparking debates once again about the U.S. immigration system. Children have been arriving alone in greater numbers for nearly seven years. Around that time, one father living in North Carolina had to wait for months as his four children traveled from Guatemala to Charlotte.
“Mynor” lives in a mobile home park just outside the north side of Winston-Salem. His small, gray trailer is tucked into the back of the park.
WFAE is not using Mynor's full name because he’s worried about repercussions in his family’s pending immigration case.
Mynor and his family are from Guatemala. He has lived in the United States for almost 16 years, but his children arrived between 2014 and 2015. Michelle, Sandy, Shirley and Jhanko traveled unaccompanied from their hometown in Guatemala to the U.S.-Mexico border.
It was in the spring of 2014 that the father of five decided to pay for a “coyote,” or immigrant smuggler, to help the younger ones cross. He says that at the time, bringing them into the country in this way was his last resort. Two of his daughters had been sexually assaulted by gang members in their hometown and later received death threats.
“Their mother couldn’t do anything about it and she called me worried,” Mynor said. “That’s when I told her, 'If there’s nothing you can do, I’ll get them here.'”
Journey Through The Desert
Michelle, the oldest of the children making the journey, was only 16 when they left. She says that traveling through Guatemala was the easiest part. What was difficult was the number of times she was separated from her siblings once they got to Mexico.
“It was hard because I needed to watch for my three younger siblings,” Michelle said. “I felt like I was always on alert trying not to lose them.”
Throughout their two-week journey, Mynor rarely heard from them or the coyotes. In fact, it wasn’t until they were dropped off near the border that he knew his kids were safe.
“The person called saying they’d be crossing the border and that they needed their payment,” Mynor said.
Near the Rio Grande River and on their own, the four huddled inside a burrow in the desert to try and sleep.
Sandy, who is now 21 years old, says it was too cold in the desert, so they kept walking until Customs and Border Patrol agents found them.
In Border Patrol Custody
“They took us to 'the iceboxes' and they put us in a cell with other people,” Sandy said. “It was really cold there and they had taken away our jackets because they were too bulky.”
The next day, border agents called Mynor to tell him that his children were safe and that they were in custody at the border. Shortly afterward, they were taken to another detention center Sandy calls “la perrera,” or “the kennel,” because of the chainlink fences that made up the cells.
“Then they took us to 'the kennels' for a few hours until they transferred us to an actual shelter,” she said.
The center was in Texas and was one of several shelters for unaccompanied minors arriving at the border.
"It was quite a long time," Mynor said. "They initially told me that they would arrive in a week, but that wasn’t true."
It wasn’t until March of 2015, five months after his kids started their journey, that Mynor got the call that he could fly his kids into Charlotte. He had to pay for their flights and the flight of a woman who escorted them.
Sandy says her older sister Michelle was the only one to recognize her father at the airport. They hadn't seen him in almost 10 years.
The Legal Battle
Since their arrival, data from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol show that between October 2017 and April 2021, more than 238,000 unaccompanied children have been found by agents in the Southwest.
The largest number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border during that time came in 2019 where there were more than 80,000 of them. The second-largest wave entered the U.S. this year, under the Biden administration. That’s about 51,000.
Many of the parents of these kids will have to figure out how to keep them in the U.S.
Mynor sought the help of the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy while he lived in the Hickory area when his children first arrived in the U.S. The Center's Immigrant Justice Program provides affordable legal representation and programs for immigrants in the area.
“Thank God my kids are almost done with their process,” he said. “There’s a good chance the judge will let them stay.”
The children remember that in Guatemala, their mother would come in and out of their lives and sometimes left Michelle or her older sister Leslie to care for their younger siblings. That experience back at home allowed them to apply for special immigrant juvenile status. If granted, they could get their green cards and become lawful permanent residents.
With a green card, Michelle says she’d go to trade school to become an electrician. She’s currently working with her dad in construction. Shirley graduated from high school this year and hopes to become a veterinarian. Sandy and Jhanko are still undecided, but being permanent residents would allow them to work and drive legally.
The kids’ journey from Guatemala to Charlotte was long, risky and expensive. But both Mynor and his kids say his decision to bring them to the U.S. probably saved their lives.
"I am aware (now) of the risk I was running or can continue to run there," Sandy said. "But I am grateful to my dad because he brought us."
Still, Mynor warns any parent who is planning to send their children across the border to think twice.
Copyright 2021 WFAE