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“That image stayed with me. And every time I think of it I feel a great pain here,” said the 45-year-old K’iche Maya woman, pointing to her chest. “I’m scared to go back.”
The horrors she saw as a child and the lack of opportunity she found as an adult led Flor to flee to the United States in 2004.
Her nephew’s son, Carlos, followed — alone — a decade and a half later. (Flor asked that she and Carlos be identified using only pseudonyms out of concern for their safety.)
Flor, who does not have legal status in the United States, wants to sponsor the 16-year-old, but a recent federal policy change is discouraging her and other immigrants from sponsoring migrant children for fear of deportation themselves, advocates say, leaving the children to languish in detention centers or shelters.
This spring, under an agreement between the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, the Office of Refugee Resettlement began sharing information with Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agreement dictates fingerprints be collected from not only potential sponsors but from all adults in their household.
While ICE says the change is meant to keep children safe from traffickers, immigration attorneys say it can deter people who don’t have documentation or who are going through immigration proceedings themselves, increasing the length of detentions for youth.
He is part of a recent surge of Guatemalan, El Salvadoran and Honduran children fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, according to a study by The Center for Global Development examining US Customs and Border Protection data.