“I don’t wish this experience on anyone not even on my worst enemy,” says a young 17-year-old girl we will call Maria to protect her identity.
This Riverside County student from Guatemala says in January of last year she made the toughest decision of her young life, “The father of my baby was going to kill me if I didn’t go back with him, so I left my baby with my grand parents and fled here to the United States fearing for my life,” she says.
Maria says she was in constant fear in her journey to America, “I was afraid I was going to be kidnapped or worse … at times we walked for five hours at a time in the darkness, hiding and trying to avoid being seen then we crossed a body of water to get into Dallas we were told not to make any sound,” she says adding that then they heard shouting from the very people they were trying to avoid, “immigration, (yelled) ‘Hey who’s there?'”
Border agents then took her and her group into custody. She says she was afraid because she had heard many stories of agents being harsh to detainees, but says they were kind to her and her group.
She says the agents took them to a place known as the “ice box”, “We suffered there, it was freezing, I was soaking wet.”
After being there for hours she says she and the others were taken to a now infamous place in McAllen, Texas where immigrants are kept in cages. While she says she was fed, given warm clothes and not mistreated, the conditions are disturbing and said something I have never heard, that immigrants like her call that place the “dog pound”.
“They don’t let you go outside, they have you like dogs and cats, among mounds of people truthfully I want to cry because you see little children there who cry begging them for their moms but there’s no way out, they don’t care,” she says through tears.
She says she’s one of the lucky ones who was only there one night and taken to a group home and then finally to where she is now with a kind foster family.
She says she’s so happy to be attending high school, “I thank God for this opportunity to study and follow my dreams and I ask for prayers for those children who are separated from their parents and are still there.”
She says people judge her harshly because of her status but mostly because she left her child behind, “If I had not fled my baby would be without a mother forever.”
She says she loves this country and dreams of bringing her son to live with her and making a better life for him in a country she now calls home.
“I consider this my country because I’m not just passing through and this is where I want to make my dreams a reality.”
Maria is grateful to the oranization TODEC, the non profit advocacy group for helping her through this tough process, “They’re my guardian angels.”