DENVER (CBS4)– More than 60,000 children have crossed into the U.S. border by themselves and now the immigration crisis is reaching Colorado. Many of those children are being processed through the immigration court system in Denver.
Some of those children are from South American countries beyond Mexico. They headed toward the U.S. border to take advantage of a law designed to stop human trafficking.
Melvin is just 16 years old. His journey to Colorado from El Salvador has been a long and treacherous one. He traveled through Mexico on a train and then crossed the U.S. border on foot.
“Yes, in Mexico it is very dangerous,” said Melvin. “Because there are a lot of deaths over there.”
The gangs of El Salvador are notorious. It was a lifestyle Melvin did not want to become a part of.
“I was in danger over there. They wanted to kill me,” said Melvin. “They wanted me to join a gang and I didn’t want to.”
Fear and the desire to be with family members who have gone before them led to the unexpected mass migration of the younger generation.
One girl, just 14-years-old, said it took two months of avoiding bandits and gangs from the time she left Guatemala to reach the U.S. border. Now she is afraid of being deported.
“She wants to be here with her family, to study and progress in life,” she said through a translator.
Once the children cross into the U.S. they go through a screening process.
Immigration attorney Jennifer Smith said they are given a critical question to answer, “They are supposed to be asked if they have any fear of returning to their own country. They are also supposed to be asked if they have been trafficked in any way.”
If the answer is “yes” they are given priority in the now overwhelmed immigration court where proceedings could take up to a year.
Some lawyers have volunteered their services and have been receiving training on how to handle such cases.
Angel came to the U.S. from Honduras mostly by bus and then crossed over the border into the U.S. on a boat. He said he also left the country because of the gangs.
“They call them “Maras.” Once they are 18 they just want to be with them. If you are not with them you will get in trouble,” said Angel through a translator.
At least two dozen Denver-area facilities are offering to accept unaccompanied minors until they can be placed with relatives.
Crisia is 14 years old and is with her relatives. She arrived in the U.S. in May after making the journey from El Salvador. She described the trip as “dangerous” because of “the danger of getting lost on the way.”
After making it across the border, what Crisia and others like her fear most is being sent back from where they came.
The immigration court in Denver is overwhelmed with the additional cases. It could take a year before a judge decides if the children are allowed to stay or must go.