With an election year close at hand, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the people behind the stories. We will briefly describe the case of legal immigrant Carlos Leveron and how his story fits into the national narrative on Immigration. But, to begin, some facts to consider:
In the past 5 years, there has been an actual increase in deportations from the US to Central America. In 2014, ICE averaged 25 deportation flights per week with 10 flights to Honduras, 10 flights to Guatemala and 5 flights to El Salvador. In June of 2015, with the end of the Salvadoran gang-truce, there were on average 30 murders each day in the country of only 6 million people. The daily minimum wage in El Salvador varies from $3.64 per day harvesting sugar to $8.39 per day in the service industry. Since 1994, US Border Patrols have found over 7,000 bodies in the border regions and have no way of tracking how many people are robbed, beaten, sexually abused or forced into servitude by gangs and criminal organizations.
Here is one man’s story to enrich our understanding of this truly complex and difficult issue. Carlon Leveron (38) is a Salvadoran immigrant who came to the US in 1999. Leveron did cross the US/Mexican border but qualified for a special US program that would document him and allow him to stay in the US legally.
Like so many, Leveron was robbed while crossing the border – hungry, thirsty and exhausted. Leveron left his children Marta and Freddy in order to find work in the US so that he could send money home. At that time, there were no US policies that would have allowed him to bring his children to the US to join him – even though he was a legal, documented immigrant. Today, The Central American Minors Resettlement act would allow some children under the age of 21 to join their fathers in the US if they reside here legally. It is a very new program and while 3000 applicants have applied, there has not yet been one approved candidate.
Supporters of this program emphasize that this is the legal route to uniting families. Not only does it reduce the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border, but, it can reduce the violence and crime that accompanies illegal immigration. The children are labeled as refugees for processing purposes. Critics oppose this plan claiming that the Central American children coming to the US are not true refugees. However, most who have lived or worked in Central America will argue that while there is no official war in Central America, gang-violence and extreme poverty makes El Salvador and other areas a de facto war zone.
Just this past June, four Cleveland Seminary students were riding in a car with a Cleveland Priest working in El Salvador when they stumbled across a dead man lying in the street. The murder was recent as blood still poured from a hole in his head. This man had been walking home from an AA meeting at the Church. He was not in any gang but he grew up in the area and knew almost everyone his age.
Throughout El Salvador, gangs recruit teenagers as they walk to school each day. Boys are told at gun point to join the gang or die. Girls are told that they must ‘service’ the gangs or they will never make it home. Many parents refuse to let their kids go to school in order to shield them from the gang life – robbing them of the chance for an education and future – but, fearing their immediate murder.
For our dead AA victim, he knew people in both gangs and since he refused to join either gang, he was murdered in the street on his way home. This is life in El Salvador today. The Civil War has ended but violence, death, and fear remain. One generation of Salvadorans was lost to political conflict and for the few who survived those years, their children face daily extinction from the growth of gangs in a post-war destabilized society.
Leveron has not seen his children since 1999. He speaks to them frequently via phone and holds their pictures close to his heart. He hopes to see them one day but he tells them repeatedly not to come illegally to the US; don’t cross the border illegally!
Leveron knows the risks that the kids face in El Salvador but he also fears for their safety during the trek to America. He knows that finding a legal avenue for immigration is better. He loves the US – it is a ‘good country’ where his kids could build a wonderful life. His children have been living with Leveron’s aunt almost since the day that he left. He thought that he would return within a year but found a good job and legal status. He was best able to help his children by working in the US and sending money back to his family in Northern El Salvador. Shortly after his departure, his wife abandoned the kids.
His aunt and uncle both believe that there is no future for Freddy and Marta in El Salvador. Freddy stopped going to school because word had reached the gangs that he had a father in the US and the gangs demanded $1000 or they would kill him. So, he dropped out of school and tries to be invisible in this rural community. Both kids want to join their father in the US but they will not go illegally. “My dad keeps telling us that, God willing, we’ll get to go soon and be with him and he’ll take us for a walk in the park … his daughter on one arm and his son on the other. That’s what we all want”.
COAR is one tiny solution in a sea of trouble. We work to feed, house, educate and love the poor and needy children in El Salvador. Our Salvadoran staff hope and pray that this next generation will build a safer and better El Salvador. Poverty, violence and immigration policy form a complex dynamic. Their stories are diverse but one thing is absolutely true: we are all God’s children.
The article above was adapted from an NPR report found at: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/07/01/419076129/a-father-in-california-kids-in-el-salvador-and-new-hope-to-reunite