‘Border children’ reach Riverhead, reunite with family

07/17/2014 12:00 PM |
Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate (center) with Estabon, 16, and Pedro, 14, and their mother Marta Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate (center) with Estabon, 16, and Pedro, 14, and their mother Marta Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

A misty Independence Day morning rekindled hope for a Riverhead family that was reunited for the first time in 11 years.

“I’m so happy,” said Marta, a Guatemalan immigrant who did not give her last name, in describing that morning. “Everything is different now.” 

Her two sons, Estabon, 16, and Pedro, 14, were alive and well after completing a dangerous trip from Guatemala to Riverhead — without the helping hands of their parents.

The boys are just two of the thousands of young immigrants known as “border children,” who have been arriving unaccompanied at Mexico’s border, having fled their violence-plagued homelands in Central America.

Though the family remains reunited for now, the journey isn’t over, as immigration policy will determine whether they may stay united or will see their family split once more.

Over the past month, Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, who acted as a translator for the family during interviews on Tuesday, said she has been helping dozens of immigrant families on the North Fork who hope to be reunited with their children. Her duties include helping families file their fingerprints with the U.S. government and complete the necessary immigration paperwork, which consists of 12 pages per child.

“This is traumatic for these children,” Sister Margaret said of the long passage from Central America to the U.S., adding that she has helped about a dozen families reunite with unaccompanied children — some as young as 2 years old — within the past month. “Every one of them has a different experience.”

The children who survive the journey across the border but are intercepted by immigration officials are sent to shelters and centers nationwide. Estabon and Pedro were first cared for in California.

The boys said it took about a month for them to reach the U.S. During their time in California, they were shuttled among three different shelters within 19 days before their paperwork was processed and they were flown east to connect with their parents.

They realize, however, their newfound togetherness may be only temporary.

During a press address on July 9 in Dallas, Texas, where many such children are being sheltered, President Barack Obama warned parents across Central America not to send their kids northward.

“While we intend to do the right thing by these children, their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay,” Mr. Obama said. “And I’ve asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm’s way in this fashion.” 

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