A group of migrant teens who fled their homes in Central America as unaccompanied minors have found a new way to alleviate the stress that comes with waiting for a decision on whether or not they will be given asylum to stay in the United States indefinitely: soccer.
They are part of a surge of teens and kids – an estimated 74,000 last year alone – crossing the US border from countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, trying to escape violence and poverty in their home countries. US law states that any minor who crosses the border alone cannot be turned away if they are fleeing dangerous situations at home, and they are taken into federal protection under the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. They are then given sponsors – relatives if possible – to stay with while they wait for a hearing in court to determine whether or not they will be able to stay in the country.
The youth soccer program is co-sponsored by New York’s Catholic Charities, and Elvis Garcia Callejas – a migration counselor with the foundation – says that “soccer in a way makes them forget everything”. When the kids are focused on playing, they forget about the worries of having to go into the immigration courts and they get to just be kids again.
Just like this younger generation of teens fleeing their homes, Garcia Callejas fled his home country of Honduras to escape violence and find better opportunities for himself. Before he became a citizen of the United States, he says he hitchhiked and rode on top of trains, which is a similar story to a lot of the kids who come through the Catholic Charities.
“A lot of them have come to the US looking for a safe place,” Garcia says. “A lot of them have come because they want to reunify with their parents. A lot of them came because they were too poor in their country”.
And now they’re getting something else to lift their spirits – Pope Francis will spend some time with a group of the boys at a Catholic school in New York while on his US visit in September. The Pope shares the boys’ love of soccer himself, and several of them have spent downtime researching his favorite club – the San Lorenzo of Buenos Aires, so they have something to talk about together.
For more information on the processes involved with getting asylum for unaccompanied minors, or if you want to know more about sponsorship or the immigration courts system, please contact Lyttle Law Firm, either via the website or by calling 215-512-5225.