‘How can I get him from there?’ Young migrants stuck in Border Patrol backlog

‘How can I get him from there?’ Young migrants stuck in Border Patrol backlog

The 10-year-old boy crossed the Rio Grande with hundreds of other migrants last week. But he was essentially alone.


Photography by CAROLYN COLE

APRIL 2, 2021 UPDATED 11:21 AM PTLA JOYA, Texas —  

That is how Christopher Garcia says he managed to travel over the course of three months from his home in one of the world’s most dangerous cities — San Pedro Sula, Honduras — to the U.S. border without an adult: by blending into groups of older children and families.

Christopher, a skinny athletic boy with curly brown hair and an impish smile, departed at an age when street gangs that dominate his neighborhood had started to recruit him. His father, who worked at a clothes factory, had tried to migrate to the U.S. himself in the past but was deported the same day he crossed the border.

This year, the family’s fortunes worsened after hurricanes damaged their home, knocking trees onto the roof.

Christopher Garcia, wearing a red and blue shirt, traveled alone from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to reach the United States.

So Christopher said he left his parents and two younger sisters and headed to join his aunt, a U.S. citizen, in the mountains of western North Carolina. He carried her phone number with him, written on the back of his Honduran birth certificate. As he made his way north toward Texas, he managed to memorize the phone number, just in case he lost his paperwork or was robbed.

Last week, a Mexican smuggler on the south side of the Rio Grande took Christopher to an abandoned house where he slept on the floor with other migrants for three days. He waited, shivering, without a coat, food or running water. The smuggler returned late Wednesday and led Christopher’s group of 700 migrants to the river, where he said he heard gunfire — he didn’t see who was shooting. They crossed on rafts to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley at about midnight.

“I’m so hungry. I want food. I want to take a bath, change my pants.”


Once on the U.S. side in rural La Joya, Christopher wandered with the group in the dark through thick mesquite brush lining the river, splitting up into smaller factions until they found Old Military Road. The cracked, backwoods artery of the Rio Grande Valley is frequented by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Border Patrol agents spotted Christopher’s group of 27 youths and seven adults early Thursday. Agents sat them down in the dry grass and called for a bus to take them to a temporary holding area, which was already overcrowded. But all the buses were busy transporting other migrants.

“We’re already full to capacity,”one of the agents said as he waited with the youths by the side of the road.

Due to the uptick in migration on the U.S. border in recent weeks, it took nearly 12 hours for the buses to arrive. Christopher was among more than 171,000 migrants who were taken into custody on the southern border last month, the highest monthly total since 2006, according to preliminary U.S. Customs and Border Protection data verified by The Times.

Of those migrants, more than 18,800 were youths like Christopher who arrived without adults, far more than the previous monthly record high of 11,861 in May 2019. About a third of them last month were taken into custody in the Rio Grande Valley.

It would be days before Christopher spoke with relatives in the U.S.


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