At 9 He Lost His Mom to Gang Violence. At 12 He Lost His Dad to Trump’s Immigration Policies.


“Undocumented children with representation are five times more likely to be successful in their cases, but the financial hardship these cases pose are often out of reach for low-income and undocumented families,” Jennifer K. Falcon, communications director for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services said. (The group, known as Raices, has agreed to give Brayan’s grandmother legal assistance.)In a recent phone call, Brayan described the living conditions at his shelter. He has a room of his own with a bed, dresser and radio. He said that many of the children shut themselves in their rooms to cry after their twice-a-week phone calls with their parents. Meals consist of cornflakes for breakfast and ham sandwiches for lunch and dinner. When I called Brayan, I could hear children crying in the background. Brayan sounded tired, perhaps because he is depressed or exhausted from crying. He said all the children were given a pill each day “so they wouldn’t get sick.” His grandmother said she was worried the pills were sedatives because he had been anxious about sleeping alone since his mother’s death, but he seemed to be sleeping well at the shelter. Shelter officials denied giving the children drugs. Brayan also said that he and the other children are required to sweep and mop floors and clean bathrooms. The shelter pays them “an allowance” of $7 a week — money they use to buy snacks to supplement meals that leave them hungry. Brayan told me he has taken it upon himself to comfort the youngest newcomers, telling them their parents wouldn’t like to see them cry. “The kids here are sad; they cry a lot,” he told me. “I tell them we’re getting out soon. I ask God that I get out of here and am reunited with my grandma soon.” The question is whether the government will allow that, and when. Brayan’s father told me he wants his son to live with his grandmother — and even had a lawyer draw up a letter attesting as much before they left Honduras. But there are no assurances the government will agree. Being a poor person of color is a strong mark against you in the foster care system. Tina Lee, an anthropologist who has described the child welfare system as “parallel to policing and incarceration,” told me that even American citizens who are relatives of children in foster care have a hard time getting custody because of discrimination against poor people and people of color. That means, she said, that “it is surely equally or doubly hard for undocumented family members.”Even more disturbing, the Department of Health and Human Services, which is in charge of the children, and the Department of Homeland Security have agreed to share data, including that of all the undocumented relatives who seek custody of the children. This almost certainly places those relatives in danger of deportation. Rosa says she will not be intimidated, but surely others will be. The Women’s Refugee Commission and National Immigrant Justice Center said it was clear “D.H.S. and H.H.S. see children as bait or suspects first, not children.” José described how in Honduras he’d walk home from work and begin to smile to himself as he anticipated seeing Brayan at the door, waiting to hurl himself at his father for a hug. He replays this image over and over in his head. He had dreamed of a new life with his son. Now separated by borders, he hopes his son will have a shot at a promising life with his grandmother. But the thought that he might not see him again is painful.“Brayan is sad. He’s in despair,” José said. “And I feel guilty. I threw my son away.” I tell him that he didn’t, that Brayan was taken from him. “I feel like crying, but what good is crying?” he replied. “So even though I am not religious, I pray. If only I could see him at the door now, it would make me so happy.”Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is an Emerson Fellow and a graduate student at Yale University.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

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