Yesterday, immigration attorney Jessica Dominguez announced that an eight-year-old Salvadoran girl — Veronica — was granted humanitarian parole by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to legally enter the country. “After two weeks of agonizing diplomatic wrangling and public pressure on Mexican and Salvadoran consular representatives, 8-year old migrant Verónica, a victim of molestation and rape on Mexican soil, avoided deportation to El Salvador and is now in U.S. soil safe with loved ones who are U.S. citizens,” stated a press release issued Monday by the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
Veronica’s parents paid a smuggler in El Salvador $7,000 to take her to the United States after local gang members reportedly threatened her family and demanded a monthly “protection” fee. Upon arriving in Mexico, Veronica fell into the hands of a smuggler who — along with the 17 year-old-migrant who accompanied her — sexually abused the young girl. Veronica managed to flee from her attackers in Chihuahua City and spent weeks in the hands of Mexican authorities who were considering repatriating her before she was allowed to enter the U.S. with her grandmother — a U.S. citizen.
Veronica is one of the thousands of unaccompanied child migrants who try to enter the U.S. every year. In 2009, the New York Times reported that approximately 7,200 unaccompanied minors are apprehended in the United States each year. The Center for Public Policy Priorities estimated a couple of years ago that an additional 35,000 more children are immediately expatriated to Mexico and neighboring countries. “They share stories of rape on trains rumbling toward the border, starvation in the desert and a muddled idea of what to do when they reach the States,” reports the Latin America News Dispatch.
Some juveniles who have been victims of drug abuse, abandonment or neglect may qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Yet, earlier this year, the advocacy group Appleseed found that the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008 which is supposed to protect unaccompanied children is often ineffectively applied.
“It’s well known that the trip is dangerous, but Veronica’s parents felt they had no other choice,” wrote Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera of the El Paso Times. Most migrants who risk their lives to embark on the increasingly perilous journey to the U.S. feel the same way. “Parents should really think twice — or more than twice — before they decide to either have an adult come over, a woman by herself, or even a child,” stated Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. It’s good advice, but as long as the U.S. fails to modernize the outdated visa system and clear the backlog of family visa petitions, many migrants will likely choose not to heed it.