Dilcia, now nine, likes her life in San Francisco. She has been going to school, making new friends and feels truly safe for the first time, her parents say. So far, Dilcia's parents have managed to stave off her deportation by filing legal appeals, asking Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to drop the case. ICE attorneys have denied the appeals. Attorney Lisa Frydman of Legal Services for Children isn't surprised. "It definitely seems like there's some kind of trend to deny requests to forego deportation proceedings against children with extremely compelling cases like Dilcia's," says Frydman, who filed the second appeal on her behalf.
Frydman says she has seen two similar cases denied in the past year involving minors whose parents are in the U.S. legally. "I'm in touch with advocates in different regions of the country where it's also been a problem," she says.
ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice would not say what standards ICE uses when considering such appeals, or if there has been a change in policy. "We have a system of immigration courts and it's appropriate to use them," says Kice.
The Rodriguezes now plan to file an asylum claim for Dilcia.
In the spring of 1998, Dilcia's parents fled Honduras and left her -- only a few months old--behind. They say they were the targets of gang violence. "They killed my brother," explains Dilcia's mother, also named Dilcia, who was 19 at the time. "I was afraid they'd come after me. I left her behind with great pain in my soul."
"Honduras is overwhelmed by gangs," says her husband, Candido. "When they attack someone, they also go after the family, because they think the family will make problems for them."
Honduran sociologist Ernesto Bardales, who has testified in more than a dozen asylum hearings on behalf of Hondurans fleeing gang violence, corroborates Candido's account. The gang problem exploded in Honduras beginning in the early 1990's, when the U.S. began deporting large numbers of Honduran youth who had become exposed to gangs in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Residents of poverty-stricken areas of Honduras, like the Rodriguezes were, are among the most vulnerable to victimization.
Fearing the trip to the U.S. without money or papers would be too dangerous for an infant, the Rodriguezes left Dilcia in the care of her maternal grandmother. The young couple settled in San Francisco, where their second daughter Seidis (now six) was born. In 1998 they received Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a benefit the Clinton Administration extended to Hondurans already in the U.S. after Hurricane Mitch ravaged the country, and which first Clinton and now Bush have renewed every year since then.
Only those Hondurans already living in the U.S. by Dec. 30, 1998, are eligible for TPS. The benefit doesn't allow them to travel outside the country, to apply for permanent residency, or to bring relatives -- even dependent children -- into the U.S.
In November 2004, another of Dilcia's uncles was murdered, in this case, with machetes. Dilcia saw his body. Two months later, her aunt was killed.
The Rodriguezes say Dilcia's grandmother -- the girl's caretaker -- was overcome by grief.
The grandmother sent Dilcia on the journey north without telling her parents. The arduous trip north and the killing she witnessed have taken its toll. A therapist at Mission Family Center recently diagnosed Dilcia with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Sometimes she walks in her sleep and she screams," says Candido. "She's always nervous."
Dilcia's case may seem dramatic. But Gregory Chen of the DC-based U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants says that the increasing number of undocumented children coming to the U.S. has become "a serious humanitarian crisis."
More than 122,000 minors were apprehended by Customs and Border Protection agents in 2004, according to a report published by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General. All but 20,000 were Mexican, and the vast majority were simply sent back across the border.
According to Chen, after 72 hours, unaccompanied children who remain are placed in long-term facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In 2004, there were 6,200 children. Today, Chen estimates the number to be closer to 8,000. Between 80 and 90 percent of them are from Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador.
"Most have suffered trauma, either in their home country or on the trip here, and come from extremely poor backgrounds," says Chen. Two-thirds of these children are eventually reunited with family members in the U.S. -- but still face deportation orders.
Many have suffered abuse or neglect, gang violence, or government prosecution, according to Chen. Often their parents had fled here earlier as the only way to escape abject poverty and violence as well as survive and earn money to support their families back home, he adds.
"The basic question is, should the government be expending limited resources to go through the full deportation process for these children,,,who've simply come here to be with their parents?" asks Chen.
Sitting on the sofa of her parents' small apartment, donning her best dress, shiny white shoes and flashing a big grin, it's hard to imagine everything Dilcia has been through.
These days, Dilcia sings at church and is an honor student at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in San Francisco's Mission District. She likes to jump rope and play soccer. But when the time comes for her to go to an immigration court hearing, she can't sleep. "She cries a lot. She thinks they're going to send her back," her mother says.
"She's afraid she'll be killed."
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Albion Monitor March
9, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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