Yesica and Yani were small children when their mother left El Salvador to make the journey to the U.S. They grew up with their grandmother and made weekly phone calls to their mother in the United States. Their mom's earnings from the U.S. allowed them to go to school.
When Yesica and Yani were eleven and thirteen their walk to school changed. Someone started following them as they walked along the only highway leading to their school. After a few days that someone showed his face. They knew who he was. Everyone knew who he was: a gang member who had threatened their neighbors. Everyone in the neighborhood believed this young man and his associates had killed the uncle of a neighbor. Of course, they didn't have proof because the police wouldn't investigate. It was likely that the police were on his payroll. But when he told Yesica and Yani that they had to be his girlfriends, they understood what that meant. They understood that girls forced into his gang were constantly raped by all its members. They understood that to refuse meant certain death.
When Yesica and Yani finally told their mom what was going on, she immediately sent all her savings to El Salvador to pay to bring her daughters to the United States. She did not take lightly her decision to send her daughters on foot and atop trains across thousands of miles of desert and danger. She tried not to think of her own journey. She tried to get the girls on birth control, knowing the likelihood of assault on the road. It was a weighty decision, yet it was hardly a choice.
Yesica and Yani arrived at the U.S. border after being abandoned by a smuggler in the desert. They were detained by Customs & Border Protection. Despite their dehydration and exhaustion, they managed to express their fear of returning to Honduras convincingly enough to be allowed to apply for asylum. Months later the immigration judge refused to hear their claims. They were deported to Honduras in 2012. Their fate is unknown.
Tana Liu-Beers, Disciples Immigration Legal Counsel and former representative of Yesica and Yani, notes that cases like these are far too common and are even more likely under current immigration policies. On July 12, 2018, the U.S. immigration agencies, by order of the Attorney General, further foreclosed claims of asylum based on gang violence and domestic violence, which will undeniably result in more youth like Yesica and Yani being sent to their deaths.
For the sake of young people like Yesica, Yani, and countless others, Week of Compassion works with partners such as Disciples Immigration Legal Counsel, Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries, and Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program to support advocacy and legal assistance. In the name of Jesus, who himself found safety and shelter in a foreign land, we seek the fair, compassionate, and hospitable treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekers.
Here are some things you can do right now:
- Learn about how current policies are affecting our immigrant neighbors, and connect with immigrant communities in your area.
- Call and visit your elected representatives to oppose policies of family separation and support legislation that will keep families together. (Information and resources are available through Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries and Disciples Immigration Legal Counsel
- Continue to pray, learn, and speak out!