Children of Fear: Who Speaks for New Jersey's Young Undocumented Immigratns

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Back in 2012, the Diaz family had a taxi business in Honduras, and like a lot of people in their village, they were visited one day by local gang members demanding protection money. When the family refused, gang members murdered all three taxi drivers and threatened to kill the rest of the family if they did not pay. Men with guns staked out their house. The family moved twice, and yet the gang always found them.

Fearing for their lives, 11-year old Pedro Diaz and his 17-year old sister, Maria, got on a bus with their aunt and uncle and headed for the United States. It took them 20 days and several buses to reach Mexico. Once there, they walked for about a week before reaching the U.S. border, where they were taken into custody by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. The aunt and uncle were immediately turned away, and the uncle wound up being murdered within weeks of arriving back in his home town in Honduras. The aunt is now believed to be in hiding.

Edwin Zepeda fled Guatemala in 2013 to join his mother in the U.S. He was granted asylum and lives in Plainfield, where he just graduated from Plainfield High School. He hopes to attend college.

The children, however, were temporarily placed in a group home until authorities could find their mother. They now live with her in New Jersey and have obtained green cards.

“Adults are expected to know that if they enter illegally at or near the border, they have to say, ‘I have a fear of returning. I claim asylum.’ They have to ask for asylum. If they don’t know to do that, they can be sent back. Children are not expected to know that” and are granted temporary asylum here until there is a court adjudication, said Catherine Weiss, a partner with Lowenstein Sandler LLP who does pro bono cases for Kids In Need of Defense or KIND.

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