Divided Families

Divided Families: David’s Story,745


Cronkite News Service

ZAMAJAPA, Mexico _ When David Tetzoyolt Juarez was caught trying to cross illegally into Arizona from Mexico, he had no money, no ability to speak the language and no idea that his planned destination _ Mississippi _ was actually a state more than 1,000 miles from where he stood.

The 15-year-old only knew that he wanted to make a better life for his family, and he believed he would find it on the other side of the U.S. border.

But just a few minutes after crossing the border, David was stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol. And a week later, he was back living with his mother and two brothers in the state of Veracruz. Back in the dirt-floor house, sharing one bedroom with his mother and two brothers. Back to watching the rogue chickens and dogs roam in and out of the house with no doors.

David is one of thousands of undocumented teenagers caught every month trying to cross into the United States and who are sent back to their homeland. From January through August of 2008, Mexican officials repatriated more than 20,000 teenagers, according to the National Institute of Migration. The majority of them were seeking work in the United States.

It was David’s idea to make the trip, his idea to buy a bus ticket and travel two days to the border. His mother paid a man from her village to serve as his guide. David would cross the border with the guide and three dozen other people, then make his way to Mississippi, where he has cousins who work on a chicken farm.

Instead, he ended up at Casa YMCA, a nondescript house in the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta that takes in youngsters stopped by immigration officials. The house is a temporary shelter until the teens figure out how they’ll get back home.

Most leave within five days, but there’s no limit to how long the minors can stay, said Ernesto Peraza Amparan, the director of Casa YMCA. “It’s home until they get enough money to go back,” he said.

Amparan said between 120 and 150 teenagers stay in the shelter each month. Most have parents who are working in the United States, and they want to rejoin them and find jobs themselves.

As part of Mexico’s Desarrollo Integral de Familia, Casa YMCA provides kids three meals a day and a place to shower, sleep and recuperate from an often-times harsh ordeal. There are DIF shelters all across the border housing teenagers who have unsuccessfully attempted to cross into the United States.

Some teenagers arrive after having walked through the desert for three or four days with no food or water, Amparan said.

“Sometimes guides say, ‘Bring food for two days,’ but will walk them for five days,” he said.

Aida Gomez Islas, 16, said she had had only a handful of peanuts to eat in five days when she was caught near Nogales, Ariz., and sent to Nogales’s DIF shelter.

She was making her way to the border from Puebla in southern Mexico, traveling with her cousin Raymondo, 14. They were headed to South Carolina to join Aida’s mother, who she hasn’t seen in five years — since her mother left to work on a ranch.

The cousins traveled for five days, first flying from Puebla to Hermosillo, Sonora, then taking a bus to Nogales, before trying to cross the border by foot. Aida said she hadn’t eaten anything in the five days they had been traveling.

Armparan said many of the teenagers caught trying to cross are from states in southern Mexico or Guatemala.

“The economic system is really poor there,” he said.

Victoria Juarez said it is poverty that drove her son to leave home.

“I told him not to go, but he wanted to go to help the family,” she said.

When she got the call that he had been caught and would be returning home, she had mixed feelings.

“I was sad when I heard he didn’t make it, but happy he was OK,” she said.

David doesn’t know if _ or when _ he will try again. First, he and his mother must repay a staggering $1,000 loan from family members who financed his trip.

So they will stay in their village, in the house with the dirt floor and stark mountain views. They will work for a neighboring farmer, picking corn for $3 a day.

And they will wait for another day.


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David Juarez, 15, washes his breakfast dish in the kitchen of La Casa YMCA, a halfway home that accepts minors who are caught trying to cross illegally into the United States. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Ryan A. Ruiz)

David Juarez, 15, collects his belongings from the bathroom of La Casa YMCA, a halfway home for minors in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, just south of Douglas, Ariz. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Ryan A. Ruiz)

David Juarez, 15, his mother and his two younger brothers share a one-room house in Veracruz, Mexico. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Ryan A. Ruiz)

David Juarez, 15, his mother and his two younger brothers share a one-room house in Veracruz, Mexico. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Ryan A. Ruiz)