Since 2014, EBSC has provided legal assistance to nearly 750 unaccompanied children fleeing gang violence, human trafficking, and domestic abuse in their home countries. With our help, these youth are often able to obtain asylum, reunify with their family members, and finally feel safe.
Why do children flee to the United States for safety?
“Cosme” and “Vicente” are brothers from Guatemala, ages 16 and 18. They experienced brutal beatings from their grandmother. When Cosme was 12, he was kidnapped and beaten by a well-known gang. With the help of a fellow kidnapping victim, Cosme escaped. Over the next few years, the boys experienced daily threats and beatings from gang members. They were deeply frightened and hardly ever left their house. Cosme and Vicente decided to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. in search of their mother whom they hadn’t seen in eight years.
“128,000 unaccompanied children entered the U.S. government’s shelter system in 2022 – triple what it was five years earlier.”
They are not alone
Political instability, economic crisis, climate-induced displacement, and organized crime continue to plague many countries, where the cost of not cooperating with a gang is often harassment, rape, or death. Children may also suffer abuse at the hands of their caretakers. On the long journey to the U.S., children face constant uncertainty and additional dangers such as abduction and human trafficking. Moreover, U.S. policies that separate families at the border often leave parents or guardians with no other choice than to let children enter the U.S. alone.
“A child living in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is on average 10 times more likely to be murdered than a child in the United States. Kids aged 15 to 17 face the highest risk of death by homicide.“
Cosme and Vicente were lucky—with EBSC’s help, they were granted asylum and are now permanent residents pursuing their education and working. Other unaccompanied children do not fare as well. For those who are apprehended at the border, about 40 percent are eligible for asylum or other legal status.
Many unaccompanied children never meet with a lawyer and have no access to legal representation during court hearings. Youth without representation are far more likely to be deported.
How does EBSC support unaccompanied minors?
We work individually with youth to apply for asylum or other legal status that will help them to stay in the U.S. legally. We offer interpretation in the young person’s native language and accompany them throughout the legal process. EBSC also mentors pro bono attorneys to provide these services.
What stands out is the resilience of these youth, many of whom have experienced trauma in their home country, on their journey to the U.S., during detention in immigration centers, or in the process of adjusting to a new culture, all while fighting for legal status. Some have experienced multiple layers of violence, discrimination and trauma due to being LGBT, Indigenous, or survivors of sexual violence.
EBSC collaborates with local mental health organizations to offer counseling and social connections. We also offer arts-based storytelling workshops to aid in their healing process and share their story in a safe way.