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Carlos’s story: An unaccompanied youth builds a new life in the U.S.

  December 14, 2021

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Carlos as a small boy in Honduras.

Carlos was fifteen years old when he left Honduras on his own. Fleeing violence and seeking a better education, and medical treatment for an eye condition that left him partially blind, he was optimistic about a future in the U.S.

A lonely journey

After crossing the the U.S. border just beyond the Rio Grande, Carlos was arrested on entry and held for the night at a detention facility in Texas before being brought to a shelter for youth in Miami. Carlos remembers exactly how long he was at the shelter: 82 days. He missed his family in Honduras, and was frightened by the uncertainty of his future.

Carlos was in the middle of a soccer game at the detention facility when he was told he would be released to live with his aunt in New Jersey. He had not seen her in person since he was very young and only had pictures to remember her by, but he was very excited; finally, he would be starting his new life in America.

IINE’s Unaccompanied Children’s Program

Carlos as a teen, freshly arrived in New Jersey.

Since 2011, IINE has helped unaccompanied minor children by providing the support and resources they need to reunify with loved ones in the United States. IINE’s program delivers essential services to children and teenagers who are referred to us by the Office of Refugee Resettlement after they have been detained and sheltered by the U.S. government under federal policy guidelines.

Children like Carlos, who are apprehended at the southern border or in the course of an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid, are placed into federal detention. Those who are able to reunify with family in New England are often referred to IINE as they are released into the care of a sponsor, usually a family member like Carlos’s aunt, while their legal status in the U.S. is clarified. In addition to certifying the safety and suitability of the U.S. sponsor’s home, IINE provides support to children and teens during this transition period by offering critical legal aid and linking the children and their sponsors to community resources.

IINE’s bilingual social workers advocate for each child as they navigate federal reunification guidelines, and are responsible for visiting the child in their new home in the U.S. IINE staff provide the reunited family with referrals to attorneys, schools, libraries, museums, health facilities, food banks, crisis hotlines, and other resources tailored both to the family’s local community and any needs or interests that may have been identified.  Depending on the individual child’s situation, a case manager may also help develop a stress management plan, work out a family safety plan with both the child and the sponsor, and discuss family support strategies with the sponsor.

Sofie, a case specialist in IINE’s Unaccompanied Children’s Program, began working with Carlos’s aunt while he was still in Miami. She conducted a home assessment, interviewing everyone who would be living with him to ensure a safe environment.

Team Carlos

Carlos poses with his aunt at his high school graduation.

Carlos remembers struggling early on as an English language learner in his new high school. “I wanted to cry because I didn’t know anything or where to go. I was always scared I wouldn’t be able to talk to people or know how to respond to them.”

Fortunately, Sofie was there to advocate for Carlos’s needs. She helped Carlos with his coursework, encouraged him to join the swim team to make friends, and connected him to a community volunteer program where he was able to help children with special needs. She also helped set up legal appointments and manage medical care.

Carlos also had the support of his aunt, who affectionately calls him “Carlitos.” “He had a really good support system and example to follow, and she didn’t give up on him, and so he didn’t give up on himself,” Sofie says.

Despite her own literacy issues, his aunt organized a system to keep Carlos’s medical, legal, and educational papers carefully organized. She also dutifully brought him to the court dates to arrange his immigration status, ultimately helping Carlos to secure Special Immigrant Juvenile status.

Carlos, today

Carlos today, age 21, talks about his experiences on Zoom.

Now 21 years old, Carlos has graduated high school and supports himself with a manufacturing job. He’s cheerful and optimistic, is far more confident in English, and continues to learn. He also continues to dream. “I would like to see myself in five or six years as a nurse or a veterinarian,” Carlos says.

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