“When you have scared children arriving at your doorstep, you do not slam the door in their face.”
— Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza.
Who are these 40,000 children who’ve undergone the perilous 1,500 mile journey to the U.S. from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador since October of last year? Finally, we’re starting to hear from them in their own voices. Today on MSNBC, José Díaz-Balart interviewed 17-year-old Maria, who paid a coyote to take her to the U.S., where she hopes to unite with a sister who already lives here. Because she’s still a minor, “Maria” is not the undocumented teen’s real name.
“She says her brother was murdered by a gang in her home town because he refused to join. Later, that gang came back to her house and told her she would be joining the gang as their property or suffer the same fate as her brother.”
Balart notes that although NBC has not yet had the chance to verify Maria’s story, it’s “consistent with” those from other Central American refugees.
Because Maria only speaks Spanish, Balart conducts the interview in her language, then translates the questions and answers. The pretty, doe-eyed teen understandably seems to suffer from a bit of stage fright at first, but speaks in an expressive, articulate manner. Even when she bursts into tears towards the end, Maria manages to keep her composure. This may have something to do with the remarkably gentle, caring, and empathetic manner in which Balart conducts the interview. He has obviously made strong efforts to gain Maria’s trust. While translating the girl’s answers, he maintains eye contact with her, and seems to make her feel comforted and understood.
Balart: What did you feel when you arrived in the United States?
Maria: I had suffered so much, I had passed through so much in my home country, and what I passed through on the way over here, I arrived here with something like I had never imagined in my travels … I felt I had finally arrived, I finally arrived. I could finally go forward to my family and live better and go forward with my dreams from now on.
Balart: The United States is warning that the journey is dangerous. Was it for you?
Maria: It was horrible. I could never have imagined that these things could happen to me […] It’s something that will always be with me, even though I want to remove it from my memory.
Balart: Are you worried that you will be deported?
Maria: Si. Yes. Because I arrived in this country with no papers, without any permission. I arrived just to save my own life. So I can continue my dreams. So I can help my family.
Balart: And if you get deported?
Maria: It would be a certain death for me. Everything that’s happened to me since in my life … I would know that that’s my last day.
Balart: Would you die if you returned?
Maria: Of course.
Balart then takes the girl’s hand and says, “Thank you, Maria. Your voice is important.”
Watch José Díaz-Balart interview Maria, an undocumented Central American teen from the border.
In an effort to frame the debate outside of the individual perspective, Balart also interviews Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza, who gave the following statement:
“It’s heart-wrenching, and compelling, and Maria’s story is not the only one […] These are young people who are fleeing desperate circumstances, and are willing to put their lives at risk to save their lives.
And so, for us, we have to be reminding all of us as Americans, whether we’re white, black, or brown, these are children, this is a humanitarian situation that requires us to live up to our principles and ideals as a nation.
When you have scared children arriving at your doorstep, you do not slam the door in their face.”
Murguia also strongly calls for examining the roots of the turmoil in Central America and implementing a more enlightened and engaged foreign policy.