Note: My friend Monica Romero-Curiel had some experience with the children bused in at Murrieta California. I asked her to write something about the events as she remembered them, and thankfully she sent the following. I’ve edited it a bit, but for the most part I’ve tried to preserve the tone of her own writing. I think she has a very interesting story to tell.
I hope you agree.
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It’s been a year since America, and the rest of the world, got to know Murrieta, CA. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
In the months prior, the United States had been overwhelmed with a tide of Central American children and minors entering illegally. Parents desperate enough were sending their children alone to the US in the hopes they would be granted asylum. Encouraged by false promises from smugglers who painted these amazing stories of how in North America they keep the kids and help them build a better life.
There is a glitch in America’s immigration system that makes staying in the USA rather easy. Smugglers knew about it. When the United States gets Mexican immigrants trying to cross the border illegally, they get deported almost immediately. The same can not be done with Central American immigrants who get detained, processed and eventually released in the US, sometimes with family members, friends, etc. After that, they get a month notice to appear at an immigration office. This almost never actually happens and immigrants simply start a living without documents in the US. This is the source of the chaos we all saw last year.
Most of these little immigrants were detained in Texas, but their facilities were just overloaded. Texas needed help from other states in processing the rising number of minors. One of the States that were willing to help was California and the kids were sent in buses to different counties to be processed.
Word got out that kids were being transported there and a group of people started organizing to make sure “illegal aliens” were turned away. Sadly, the whole world got to know Murrieta through the protests. When the buses arrived, the protesters blocked the way screaming at the buses full of kids who didn’t quite understand what was going on. People held nasty signs and kept screaming at the kids. I got to watch all of this on TV, I could see the kids’ faces full of terror, and crying and it broke my heart. I can’t understand how people can be that vile to children. When some of the protesters were interviewed, it was clear to me that they didn’t really understand why the kids were there. They wanted them out of town.
I went to bed that night and all I could think of was the kids’ faces looking through the window at the people shouting; “DEPORT, DEPORT !” Some of the protesters kept screaming that they wanted an America without people coming over and take away their rights. It wasn’t clear to me which rights they were referring to, or how children were taking them. These kids just needed to be processed and, sadly, send back to their crime ridden country.
The next morning I woke up and I started searching for more news about this. The buses had been turned around and redirected to different places. I went to work and while I was driving, I kept thinking how the kids must feel. They were alone, their parents had left them by themselves and I was sure they were scared. When I got to work, the news kept showing the confrontation between angry protesters and pro-immigration activists. Ironically, by blocking the entrance to the town, the protesters effectively delayed the deportation process and obstructed law enforcement (a crime in itself).
I found out some of these kids had been abused by drug criminals/thugs in their own country. Most of these crimes never get reported for the fear of retaliation. I found out the majority of these kids were from Honduras, a country that has the world’s highest murder rate. Others were from some of the poorer rural areas of Guatemala and El Salvador.
Their story touched me.
I have been living in the USA for 27 yrs but I haven’t lost my accent, so I have encountered racism quite a few times. I imagined how the kids must have felt after seeing people shout and spit at them (people were spitting at the buses).
Local municipalities and churches sent word requesting the public’s help. Families that could host some of these kids for a few days while they were being processed, mostly seeking bilingual people so that it could help the kids feel at ease. I called the place where they had a group of these kids in Fontana, CA. and offered my house to a couple of children. They took my number down and they called me the next day. They had 3 siblings from Honduras who they didn’t want to separate and wanted to see if we were willing to take them. I said yes immediately. Even though I wasn’t sure if I was able to afford it, I thought since my family is big as it is 3 little kids wouldn’t make much of a difference.
The next day, my son and I went to pick up the children. When I saw the kids I broke down crying. They look exhausted, hungry, and scared. At first they were hesitant when I started talking to them, so we stayed around the place a little longer until they seemed a bit more comfortable with us. We have a spare room, so they were going to be able to sleep together. The kids’ ages were 4, 6 and 7. The little girl was the oldest.
That day we got home, we fed them and showered them. The next day we took them to the park where they, being kids, enjoyed running up and down a little hill. The 4 yr old kept asking me when he was going to see his mom. You could see his little face getting sad every time he talked about her. I told him; “soon.” Then he hugged me with a very tight embrace. It was so hard for me to hold back my tears. I didn’t want him to see me cry. I watched them in awe holding hands, the little girl acting protective with their younger siblings. When we got home, she began to feel more comfortable with us, so she started sharing stories of her town. She talked about how at night, they are supposed to lock all the windows with a big pole, so no one is able to open them from the outside. She also talked about food. She kept telling us how she felt so full now and that sometimes the 4 year old is the only one who eats a second meal a day because he needs it, so he can grow tall and strong. You could see the 4 year old’s face blushing as if feeling ashamed he has to eat a bit more than his siblings.
The 6 year old wasn’t talking as much as his sister. Out of the 3, he looked more frail. I knew he needed more time to feel comfortable at my house. I spared them from any type of images on the TV about the nasty confrontations still going on between activists and protesters.
That night, I asked the kids if they wanted to do something in particular, since I had to take a week off from work I was able to spend more time with them. The 7 year old looked at me and with the reddest face possible she asked if we could drive by Disneyland, they wanted to find out how it looked. That comment touched me so deeply. I knew even though she was so young, she was aware that it would cost money they didn’t have. So she was settling for just the option to look at Disneyland from the outside. I told them we could, as long as they were able to go to bed earlier. The 6 year old jumped and went straight to my son and hugged him so hard and said; “thank you.” It was hard to keep our eyes dry in front of them.
The next morning the subtle noises from their bedroom woke me up, it was only 7am and the 7 y/o had already made their bed and was trying to comb her little brother’s hair. I just didn’t know how to react, I’m not used to kids being that independent at such a young age, so I told her I would finish it. The 6 year old was particularly chatty this time, and he was telling us he is used to get up at 5am every day to go with his dad to get fresh made bread so his mom can prepare some sort of sandwiches that she sells in the corner. And by the time they get back, it’s time for them to go school.
I just didn’t know what to say. I finished combing his brother’s hair and I asked them if I could hug the 3 of them and they answered me with a big hug. I was able to score tickets for them for Disneyland and they were laughing in excitement. I would never forget the look on their little faces as they were handed their entry ticket. Needless to say it was a long day for me, but the perfect day for them. We exited the park around 10 pm, and we had to make a short walk to the car. My son took us through a short cut across the parking lot, and I noticed the 7 year old stopped cold. I asked what was wrong and she pointed at some tourist buses parked in the front. She asked me if I was going to leave them there. I assured her we were not and they looked at me and smile and held my hand tighter.
On our way back, the 3 of them were trying to sing different Disney songs and kept talking about every single thing they got to see. I only kept thinking how difficult it would be for them the day they had to leave. That thought almost made me regret having signed up for this.
The next day the children woke up later than usual and went down to have breakfast. I just kept admiring that little 7 year old acting like a little mother to her 4 year old brother. It’s difficult to imagine all the things they have seen in their short lives. As breakfast progressed, they kept getting more and more comfortable, so much so that the 6 year old started talking about the day they were in the bus. He told us people kept hitting the bus and throwing things at it. One of the officers inside told them to sing songs, but his little brother at some point got so scared that he peed on his pants. The 4 year old got really offended and started to cry out of embarrassment. I told him it was normal to be scared once in a while and hugged him. The 7 year old kept quiet but got up to hug his little brother. I asked her if she had been scared too and she said that they were sitting down resting their heads on their laps, but the shouting and the hitting on the bus made most of them cry. The 6 year old told us that when they got down from the bus, they had to cover their heads with a little blanket so the mean people would not see them. The 4 year old kept hugging me but started asking for his mom. I promised him they would see her soon. In the meantime, I was trying my best not to cry with them.
I tried to change the subject because I wanted them to just be happy at the moment and forget about the atrocities going on, but the 6 year old kept talking. He was telling me that a friend of the family had this magazine with him one day, and that is where they saw pictures of Disneyland. He said that when the friend left the magazine unattended, he ripped the page that featured the Castle and placed it under one of the beds in their little house. The 7 year old interrupted him saying that it was that day when they went outside to play ball in front of the house, when a car pulled over across he street. Their parents had taught them to come inside the house or to hide under a parked car when they thought something bad was happening. So when they saw the car coming to a screeching halt, they instinctively dropped to the ground and moved to the nearest parked car for cover. She said she was holding the 4 year old’s hand but she decided to cover his eyes instead. A guy jumped from the car holding some sort of a rifle and went inside the little house, it didn’t take long when he came out dragging a young man, who according to the 7 year old, was about 17/18 years old. Outside they kept shouting at each other while the siblings were moving underneath the car, when all of a sudden the teen tried to run away and the guy with the rifle just shot him. the shooter went to say something to him and started to kick him. Then, he just got into his car and drove away leaving the young man there dying. Neighbors started gathering and called an ambulance, but she says they sometimes don’t even come and people have to ask around for help. Their mother had already run outside looking for them and when she saw them, she took them inside the house. She told me that while they were hiding, all that she could think about was the magazine with the pictures of the Castle and people smiling. That is why when their parents told them they were gonna send them to America, they thought about Disneyland.
My son asked if the children knew if any of their friends had been sent to America as well, and the 6 year old said that he didn’t think so, because in order to come you have to work really hard to save money. The 7 year old said she used to help cleaning a house for some lady who owns a store next to the school. I asked her about her house-cleaning duties because I couldn’t think of a 7 year old working as a maid. It was just too much. She said that she had to sweep the whole house, make the beds and gather all the dirty clothes and put them inside a tub with soapy water. But that was only after school, because before school she helps her mom making the sandwiches she sells in the corner.
I just had to ask them how was the trip coming to America. They said they took a bus for days, and that a lady had been with them all the way until they arrived to Mexico. Once they got to Mexico, the smugglers moved them to a van with another group of people and left them at a warehouse for a few days. The 4 year old was quick to point out he didn’t like that, the warehouse had roaches that would crawled on top of them at night and also, they forgot to bring food one whole day so they decided to sleep most of the day instead. The 7 year old said she felt like crying most of the time, but she didn’t want to make her siblings cry more, because they were scared.
All I could think of was the people from Murrieta, how deplorable that adults would willingly scare these little kids that have been through enough, they’ve suffered enough trauma.
The smuggler came back the next morning and took one group to a van and they had to wait a little bit for him to come back for them, when he came back he had sandwiches and juices, he gave them to them and told them to be ready because they were the next group to leave. They devoured the sandwiches and grabbed the bag with clothes, then walked with the smuggler to the van.
In the van, the smuggler kept giving them instructions. He told them that once they crossed to America, a border patrol would find them and they would help them. The 6 year old kept complaining with his sister about being warm, they had to wear two layers of clothing because they weren’t allowed to carry much inside their bags.
The smuggler took them to the edge of a river (which I’m assuming is the Rio Grande) and told them he had a raft hidden there that would take them across. So they got into the raft and in no time were across the river where another guy helped them get out and told them which path to follow. He said they shouldn’t worry because the border patrol would look for them and help them. The children told me they walked quite a bit until a border patrol saw them and the kids ran towards it. They said it was much better after the patrol took them to the building because they weren’t cold or hungry. They were able to take a shower and change clothes. The next day the officials explained they would load the children into a bus because they were going to California (Murrieta).
I asked the kids if they had any family here because I found it more troublesome that their parents would just send them without any adults waiting for them. They said they had an uncle here, but they don’t remember his address. They only had his phone number, which the border patrol took away. The patrol assured the kids they were contacting him.
After this, I decided to take the children to a park, that whole conversation had left me flabbergasted. I got to keep them for 2 more days before I had to report back with them, it was extremely difficult saying goodbye to them. They all cried while we were hugging.
I wasn’t allowed to keep any personal information from them, so after I left them there, I had no way to contact them again. I’d like to think that they made it to his uncle and that they are receiving all the help they desperately need.
All this situation is disgraceful. These are tiny people who depend on us, adults, to take care of them. It’s unbelievable to think that people would turn their backs on the children and also intimidate them so much. Kids don’t understand about borders laws; deportation. All they know is that they are going to a safer place where they don’t have to worry about being hurt. Apathy is going to hurt us more than we think.
About a month after they left, I read about a group of kids being murdered after they had been sent back to Honduras. My heart sunk. I just wish we’d lived in a world where kids didn’t have to suffer like this.