14-year-old James and his mom migrated from Brazil. On August 26, 2017, they reached the U.S.-Mexico border near Santa Teresa, New Mexico, and gave themselves up so they could seek asylum. They were arrested and detained. They were separated for nine months. James was taken to Chicago and kept at a facility for refugee children. His mom was held in West Texas. They were recently reunited.
Youth Radio had the opportunity to interview James in El Paso, Texas. We are using his first name only in order to protect his and his mother’s privacy. The following interview has been translated from Spanish to English and edited for clarity and length.
They took me on a plane to a shelter for kids and teens. I stayed there but it was scary because I didn’t know where I was going and what was going to happen. I was being separated from my mom. I was a little worried because I didn’t know where I was going or where my mom was going.”
No, my mom wouldn’t say much because she cried most of the time. So, she just said goodbye the last time we were together at the prison and said to take all my stuff because she didn’t know what was going to happen to her. I was scared because I didn’t know what was happening, what was going to happen. I have never been in a situation like this being imprisoned for a long time.
I didn’t have the thought that I would never see her again, but I would worry about where she was, how was she eating, how was she sleeping. Because I was fine. It was difficult [for me] but it was not the end of the world. It was tough and stressful but I think it was nothing like where she was.
There were a lot of staff provocations… I don’t know how to explain. There were a lot of rules and it would confuse you. I couldn’t touch, I couldn’t talk to others in a different room, I couldn’t stay in the hallways, I couldn’t get into other people’s room to talk, you couldn’t sit on another person’s bed, you had to be quiet in your room, I couldn’t yell, I couldn’t talk. Lots of things. I had to be in a group and couldn’t talk just look at what I had to do…lots of things that would get you in trouble. You needed to walk on tiptoes because it was difficult. Lots and lots of rules. I don’t like to talk about the difficulties I went through because one gets anxious.
Yeah, I asked for medicine to help me control my emotions. I couldn’t concentrate, I was really stressed out. I couldn’t focus at school. You are supposed to stay awake. Classes were eight hours long, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. I think the medication helped. I wasn’t too agitated anymore.
Children who haven’t been convicted of any crime are being subjected to prison-like conditions in the U.S., where they were seeking a better life.
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