No. 1

   News from Sonia 
The surge in unaccompanied immigrant minors to the U.S.--nearly 69,000 were placed into federal custody in fiscal 2014--brought Sonia Nazario to Washington, D.C., where she addressed the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
From Journalist to Social Activist
Speaking for Children
This year I stepped away from my comfort zone of detached journalist and became a social activist. In the spring and summer of 2014, thousands of young migrants were being detained each month at the border and then more than two-thirds faced federal immigration proceedings without legal representation, which made getting permission to stay in the U.S. legally nearly impossible. Children who likely merited protection were being sent back to some of the most dangerous countries on Earth in Central America.  I was horrified. I have covered the issue of unaccompanied immigrant children for 15 years. My 2006 book, Enrique's Journey, explored the dangers and threats facing these children through the experience of one boy, and the modern-day odyssey these children go on to reach the U.S. I knew the dangers these children faced. I had to speak out.

I returned to Honduras and penned an opinion article for the New York Times, The Children of the Drug Wars.  I appeared before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (pictured above). I did many television, newspaper and radio interviews (including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Morning Joe, Anderson Cooper 360). I also gave more than 60 speeches around the country, explaining the issue to both young and old, educators and lawyers, religious groups and philanthropists, social activists and library patrons.
A Christmas Story
My travels this year took me from Murrieta, California to McAllen, Texas. I witnessed the best and worst of humanity. In Murrieta, I saw hate: anti-immigrant activists shouting at buses taking immigrant children to a detention facility. In McAllen, I saw people come together with a purpose to help. 

Residents of McAllen, a border town, saw dirty, scared women and their young children at a local bus station. These women and children -- some as young as a few days old -- had just been released by the U.S. Border Patrol to join relatives or friends as they await their immigration court dates. The locals took them to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which overnight became a relief center.

As the word spread, volunteers streamed in from 28 states to extend a helping hand to these strangers. Jews, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists came together. They faced down people who arrived from Houston and California, who wielded pistols and signs telling the women to get out, that their toddlers were criminals here to bring America harm.

Among the volunteers were a father and his eight and ten year old daughters from North Texas. His youngest daughter had watched news about the migrants on TV. "Isn't there something we can do to help?" she had asked. Others simply said: "I was moved. And so I came." On the fourth of July, the church had 1,000 volunteers -- doctors, lawyers, retirees, stay at home moms, local students -- three times the number of migrants needing assistance.

The night I was at the church, when women walked into the church salon, volunteers hugged them and called out, "Bienvenidos!" Welcome. Women who had lived in utter terror during the journey north, some of them having faced rape and kidnappings, broke down crying as they heard the warm greeting.

Women told me they had been kept in Border Patrol holding cells, called "hieleras'' or freezers, because they are very cold. They say they slept for five nights on the concrete floor with their children. There were no beds, no shower and not enough food. Among them was a three-day-old baby. 

Sister Norma Pimentel, the righteous nun who runs the relief center, said, "We are not doing anything political. We are extending a hand -- one human to another."

Give a Gift, Educate Others
Put a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States.
Buy a copy of the recently revised and updated Enrique's Journey for someone on your XMAS list. It is available in English and Spanish. A Young Adult version came out this year in English, and will be available in Spanish in April, 2015.
Refugees Not Immigrants
 I consider many of these children -- not all -- to be refugees. Why? Unlike an immigrant, who sets off for a new land to better their lives, a refugee is someone who must flee their country primarily for safety because their government cannot or will not protect them. If they stay, they face persecution and possible death.

President Obama's recent executive actions will temporarily legalize millions of adults and mean fewer citizen children will be separated from parents who are in the U.S. unlawfully. But I am angry that this administration and many in Congress have done little to protect the children fleeing Central America's violence. Instead they tried to eliminate a 2008 law that ensured these children have a right to plead their asylum cases before an immigration judge; tried to ram the cases through the courts as quickly as possible, sometimes turning due process into a sham process; and allowed immigrant children to go before judges with no government-appointed lawyers to help them argue their case. 

Finally, and perhaps most important, the administration has pushed governments to the south--Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala--to interdict these children before they reach the U.S. border and send them back to their home countries, sometimes to deadly fates.  A July study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found 48% of apprehended children "said they had experienced serious harm or had been threatened by organized criminal groups." 

I have worked closely with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit founded by Microsoft and Angelina Jolie that recruits pro bono attorneys to represent unaccompanied minors. Despite recruiting nearly 9,000 pro bono attorneys to represent a child, KIND estimates more than 70% of children are still standing before a judge without anyone to help them mount and present complex immigration asylum cases, even though the stakes in the outcome can mean life or death. 
What You Can Do
If you want to help these children:
  • Make a donation to KIND.
  • Write a letter to a lawmaker in support of giving these children a full, fair, and timely immigration hearing, as required under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. Ask Congress to increase the number of refugees the U.S. allows to pre 9/11 levels, which were nearly twice current levels, to allow more children fleeing harm to have a safe harbor in the U.S.
  • Help others get educated by giving Enrique's Journey as a gift.
  • Explore other ways to help on my website.
Changing Perspectives, One Student at a Time
In November, Sonia
was the opening keynote speaker at the National Council of Teachers of English national convention near Washington, D.C.
Children who have made Enrique's Journey through Mexico on
El Tren de la Muerte are in our schools and universities. 

More than 70 universities have adopted Enrique's Journey as a freshman or common read as have scores of high and middle schools nationwide. School districts are increasingly bringing me in to work with teachers, counselors, and principals to help them understand what these children have been through in their home countries, on the journey, and upon arrival in the U.S., and what measures they can take to ensure these children are ready to learn.

With new Common Core teaching standards in mind, a revised version of the book was recently issued, as well as a new Spanish version. The new Young Adult version [meant for middle schoolers and reluctant readers in high school] was picked as a 2014 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People [sponsored by the Children's Book Council and the National Council for the Social Studies].
My Speaking Schedule
I have reserved the winter to work on my next book, but am booking talks for the spring and fall. So far I am traveling to Ohio, Colorado, Washington State, Maryland, Minnesota, Indiana, North Carolina, and Iowa. And that is just in April. View my scheduleEmail me if you'd like to book me as a speaker.

Update on Enrique and his Family
Belky with Sonia

Readers continue to ask for updates about Enrique and his family, and this year I spent a week living with Enrique's younger sister, Belky, in Honduras to report a story for the New York Times and then a weekend with Enrique's mother, Lourdes, his wife, Mar�a Isabel, and his two children in Jacksonville, Florida, where Enrique now lives.

This family - like the country they come from - is continuing to struggle. The violence and poverty in Honduras is worse than ever.  And those who crossed the U.S. border have faced difficulties as well. Read more  


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