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Feb 07, 2019

By Rossy Sical, Lead Case Manager for Unaccompanied Children, Bethany Christian Services

I was born and raised in the highlands of Guatemala. My family is what some might call “dirt poor.” We grow vegetables, corn, and coffee—literally using our hands in the dirt to meet our needs. When we don’t have enough money to buy food, we use our corn to make tortillas, sell coffee to nearby plantations, and hope our crops will provide for us.

Poverty has been my constant companion; I have ached all my life, seeing my family work so hard yet never have enough.

I always knew I could help my family by furthering my education. In ninth grade, I earned a scholarship to come to the United States for high school, and I quickly learned the power of combining education with opportunity. My high school diploma opened the door to college, and today I am completing a master’s degree in political science focused on international development. I am grateful that my education and opportunity has enabled me to help children who are fleeing Central America in search of safety.

On January 27, I traveled with some of my Bethany colleagues to Tijuana, Mexico, at the U.S. southern border. I tried to imagine what I might see, smell, and touch there, but I soon realized that nothing could have truly prepared me for the humanitarian crisis I witnessed. I saw people who had experienced deep loss. They were hurting as they remembered everything they'd left behind and looked forward to an uncertain future.

But I also witnessed the resiliency of the human spirit. I was compelled that our search for immigration solutions must do more than create more gaping wounds.

Just a few days before our trip, the United States implemented a new policy that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their claims to be heard rather than keeping them safe in the U.S. While many people present themselves at official ports of entry, most people in Tijuana are impeded from even reaching the San Ysidro checkpoint to make their asylum claim, a right they are given by U.S. law.

Our team’s purpose was to verify whether asylum-seeking children and families are safe in Mexico. Sadly, we found evidence that they are far from safe, especially the children. We spoke with kids and families who had fled gang violence and political intimidation in Central America. We met others who had been shot or extorted.

The situation is even more dire for kids who travel to the border alone (many between the ages of 12 and 17, but some even younger), commonly known as unaccompanied children. These kids are truly alone and have no one to care for them or keep them safe. Unaccompanied Central American children have a right to seek asylum in the U.S. and a right to do so safely. Sadly, many children are actively prevented from exercising this right. These children are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse because of their age and situation.

I found myself thinking about their parents, likely wondering, Who is tucking in my child at night? Who is holding their hand? Who is feeding them?

Unaccompanied children are among the most vulnerable refugees, and I worry their plight is becoming normalized and even demonized, as though they are the cause of this crisis and not its victims. Where do you put your tears when this happens on your watch? But most of all, when does it end?

It hurts.

Those two words summarize my experience in Tijuana. It hurts seeing so many people living in limbo. It hurts that most can’t return to their home countries, like I do every year, because of violence and political fear. It hurts because these children can’t move forward.

I am proud to be part of a Bethany team that serves unaccompanied Central American children who have fled the unimaginable. Visiting Tijuana affirmed to me that Bethany's services are needed now more than ever. Through our partnerships with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, children can be kept safe in temporary foster homes and have access to education, medical care, case management, mental health services, legal help, and more.

I pray that our work will always be meaningful for those we serve. Even more, I pray that one day our work won’t be needed. Solutions are desperately needed for the many crises in our world, including what's happening in Guatemala and in other Central American countries. One day, I hope to help families like my own so they can stay safe and thrive in their communities and home countries.

I am reminded of Psalm 82:3, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” Fighting back against injustice and oppression isn’t easy, but I am honored to be part of an organization that is doing this every day.

Learn more about Bethany's work with refugees and unaccompanied refugee minors: