Twenty years ago, Hami Torres fled Mexico at age 13, her 11-year-old brother in tow. Terrified, they trekked for hours with a group of older strangers through desert
scrub that slashed Hami’s bare legs bloody. Then the two
children were folded into the spare-tire compartment of a car
for the drive across the border.
The Torres children had left their home country to reunite
with their mother and stepfather, who had entered the United
States three months before. Yet once the children made it to this
country, the ordeal wasn’t over. They lived in a crime-ravaged
neighborhood where Hami was expected to join a gang for
protection. She constantly feared being found by immigration
authorities, always looking over her shoulder for officials who
might find out she was undocumented.
Eventually, Hami was able to build a new life for herself.
Though her brother dropped out of high school at 16, Hami
graduated, went on to college and earned her citizenship. Today,
she is a cardiovascular surgical intensive care nurse, married
with three children.
Last year, thousands of unaccompanied minors like the
Torres children surged across the Mexican border, most from
Central America. Some as young as 5, most in their teens,
they turned themselves in to authorities, seeking asylum and
giving horrifying accounts of violence they’d either been victim
to or witnessed — beatings, rapes, murders and drug gang
intimidation — both in their home countries and on their
journey to the United States.
Since unaccompanied children from countries other than
Mexico or Canada can’t be deported without a hearing due to
a 2008 law aimed at stopping human trafficking, these children
were placed in U.S. detention centers and shelters. For some,
the trauma continued. They endured unheated facilities,
limited food and water, and lack of access to bathrooms and
showers. Some have reported being abused physically and
sexually by facility personnel (a complaint was filed in June
2014 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 116
unaccompanied immigrant children).
After processing in detention facilities, these unaccompanied
Psychologists are working to help undocumented
immigrant children recover from trauma and deal
with the uncertainties of their lives.
By Lorna Collier