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The Face and Voice of Unaccompanied Children

Jan 13, 2012
Vanna Slaughter

Our program joined CLINIC’s Legal Orientation Program for Custodians (LOPC) for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) in March 2011, not really understanding the poignant experiences we would face in this program.  Since March, we have come to know the stories of 90 UAC’s in the Dallas area.  We have done our best to educate their Custodians about the complicated maze of government and private entities that are now important players in their unaccompanied child’s life. The stories these children and their custodians have shared with us have broken our hearts and moved us in ways we never imagined. 

Tania was left behind in Honduras, at the age of 7, in 2004, by her mother. Tania’s mother had been abused and threatened by Tania’s father, who was a well-known gang leader, active in drug cartel activity. 

Tania’s father refused to let Tania leave Honduras with her mother.  Tania’s mother feared for her life and knew that law enforcement officials in Honduras could not protect her. Tania’s mother fled Honduras and came to Dallas where she has worked cleaning office buildings since.

In late 2010 Tania’s father was murdered by an opposing gang, leaving Tania alone to live with neighbors.  Upon learning of her husband’s murder, Tania’s mother went to extraordinary means to bring Tania to the U.S.  Finally in August 2011, Tania entered the US in South Texas and was arrested by the Border Patrol.  Because of Tania’s age (14 now) she was placed in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  In a bizarre move, ORR chose to place Tania in a shelter in Miami, Florida, notwithstanding the fact that Tania’s mother (her potential custodian) lived in Dallas, Texas.

Tania’s mother applied to be Tania’s custodian and was approved by ORR.  In September Tania was ready to be released to her mother, but only if her mother could pick Tania up in person in Florida.  Tania’s mother’s only means of getting to Florida was by Greyhound Bus, which she knew would be stopped at checkpoints along the way.  Nevertheless, so desperate to pick up her daughter, Tania’s mother took the risk of the bus trip and, thankfully, is now reunited with Tania.

The celebration coming from reunification with their parents, however, is often short-lived for UAC’s like Tania.  Upon returning with her mother to Dallas, Tania learned that her mother has a new partner in her life with whom she has had 2 U.S. citizen children who are Tania’s half-siblings.  Tania’s mother was recently in our office requesting Spanish-language counseling resources for Tania.  Tania evidently is very angry with her mother, despondent about her father’s murder, resentful of her U.S. citizen half-siblings, and is acting out in rebellious ways.  Tania’s immigration court hearing is not scheduled until 2013, by which time Tania’s mother is extremely worried that Tania’s self-destructive behaviors will preclude her eligibility for any immigration remedy.

Although the facts in each of these UAC cases are unique, Tania’s case is a common example of the messy, convoluted, disconcerting and heartbreaking ways in which the cases involving UAC’s play out.

*Vanna is Division Director for Catholic Charities of Dallas' Immigration and Legal Services