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Young Asylum Seekers In Nogales Share Their Stories, Plead For Relief

By Kendal Blust, Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2020 - 4:55pm
Updated: Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:13pm

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asylum seekers hold up signs
Sara Ritchie
Children who are waiting for asylum in the United States with their families in Nogales, Sonora, marched to the border wall Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, to ask the United States to open the border to them.

Migrants and supporters marched to the border wall in Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Arizona, on Wednesday to highlight the stories of children waiting south of the border to ask for asylum in the United States.

Standing next to the rust-colored steel slats of border wall in Nogales, Sonora, a young girl read off a list of names of children waiting to ask for asylum in the United States.

There was Jesus, 10, from Venezuela, who wants to be a chef. Alessandra Michelle, 11, of Honduras, who wants to be a nurse. And Juan, 5, who just hoped for "a safe future and better opportunities to continue his schooling."

They were among dozens of children who marched through Nogales, Wednesday chanting, singing and holding up handmade signs, all seeking access to asylum in the United States.

Fanny
Sara Ritchie
Fanny, 10, tells her story of fleeing threats and violence in her home state of Guerrero, Mexico, during a protest at the border wall in Nogales, Sonora, on Oct. 21, 2020.

Several children took turns leading prayers, telling their stories about the dangers that drove their families from their homes and their long waits at the border. In a statement directed at President Donald Trump, 10-year-old Fanny, from Guerrero, Mexico, pleaded for the United States to open up the border to families like hers.

"I'm asking you to open the border. Please, listen to us," she said, reading her statement out of a notebook she was carrying along with the sign she made. "I ask God to soften your heart, and to help us, please. We have suffered so much here. We are defenseless children."

The event, organized by the group Save Asylum, was meant to bring attention to the impacts U.S. asylum policies have on migrant children and their families.

And protesters on the north side of the border held up their own signs calling for more humane immigration policies and cheered for asylum seekers on the other side of the wall in an effort to show their support.

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LAUREN GILGER: Let's now turn to our southern border and the ongoing plight of migrant children there. The effects of the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy separating families at the border are still being felt today. The [American Civil Liberties Union] (ACLU) said in a court filing on Tuesday that they have not been able to locate the parents of 545 children separated from their families in 2017 and 2018. And this is just adding to a list of issues facing asylum-seeking migrants stuck at the border, which has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic since March. Thousands of asylum seekers have been stranded in Mexico for at least seven months now since the United States issued a public health order in March that closed the border to migrants during the coronavirus pandemic. Among them, many children stuck in limbo with their families. [On Oct. 21], a demonstration at the border wall in Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Arizona, put a spotlight on dozens of those children who are waiting for asylum at the border now. And here with us to talk more about that demonstration and all of this is Kendal Blust with KJ — KJZZ's Fronteras desk in Hermosillo. Good morning, Kendal.

KENDAL BLUST: Morning.

GILGER: So this report, I want to start with, that was out this week about migrant children forcing separated families under — forcing children to be separated from their families under the Trump administration. The parents of it sound — it turns out hundreds of those children still have not been located. Tell us where those stand, what's happening right now in those cases?

BLUST: Right. Well, we started hearing about family separations under the Trump administration's so-called zero tolerance policy in 2018. But like you said, on [Oct. 21], we learned the extent which kids and parents are still apart years later, with 545 of those parents basically missing. And that's with some pretty spectacular efforts underway by lawyers and human rights defenders trying to track those families down, sometimes on the ground in the countries where they're from. But they were separated now years ago, as early as June 2017, as part of a pilot program that predates that zero tolerance policy. And many of those parents have already been deported back to the countries they fled where they haven't necessarily left information behind about where they've gone. And then in the meantime, their, their children who are forcibly taken at the border, have been shuffled from immigration facilities to shelters and foster homes before usually being placed with family members or sponsors in the U.S. And those 545 kids, some who are less than five years old when they were separated, haven't seen their parents for three years now. And, you know, we've heard a response from [the Department of Homeland Security] (DHS), and the White House is focused on the fact that some of those parents who have been located have decided for their children to stay with family or sponsors in U.S. rather than being sent to their country's origin to be reunited with their parents who were deported. But advocates are saying that, you know, these separations have put families in impossible situations, that they didn't intend to be separated from their children. And that really the way for it now would be to reunite those families in the U.S. where parents and children would be safe.

GILGER: So tell us about this march to the border here in Arizona [Oct. 21]. What motivated the protest?

BLUST: Yeah. So in the march, there were dozens of migrant children and their parents who marched through Nogales carrying signs with hearts and flags and handwritten messages. And they made their way to the border wall where protesters on U.S.A. were waiting. And, and the heart of it really was in these testimonies from some kids who stood up in and shared their experiences. There was a 15-year-old girl who talked about fleeing home with her mom from Honduras because of girls like her were being kidnaped and later found in rivers. An eight-year-old boy from Venezuela talked about fleeing home and then finding themselves stuck at the border where he has seen crime and violence against migrants. And then a 10-year-old girl, girl from Guerrero, Mexico read this long, heartfelt letter that she wrote to President Trump talking about leaving her home behind and pleading for the U.S. to open the border to asylum seekers in situations like hers.

GILGER: All right. And that's all we have time for this morning. That is Kendal Blust with KJZZ’s Fronteras Desk in Hermosillo. Kendal, thank you so much for the update on all of this.

BLUST: Thanks, Lauren.

Fanny
Sara Ritchie
Fanny, 10, tells her story of fleeing threats and violence in her home state of Guerrero, Mexico, during a protest at the border wall in Nogales, Sonora, on Oct. 21, 2020.
Children march
Sara Ritchie
Children hold up signs they made asking for the United States to open the border to asylum seekers during a demonstration in Nogales, Sonora on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.
children hold signs
Kino Border Initiative
Migrants and asylum seekers have repeatedly protested against MPP and other limits on asylum, like these children at a demonstration in Nogales, Sonora, on Oct. 21, 2020.
Children Waiting For Asylum
Sara Ritchie
Children hold up a banner that says "Children Waiting For Asylum" as they march through the streets of Nogales, Sonora, to the border wall on Oct. 21, 2020, as part of a demonstration urging the United States to open the border to asylum seekers.
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