Poverty, murder propel teen Salvadoran girl to Dallas

DALLAS — There are many faces of the border crisis. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 52,000 children have crossed the Texas border illegally since October; most of them coming to escape danger and poverty in Central America.

They are risking their lives to escape a situation some say is so bad it's a risk worth taking.

The story of 14-year-old Sylvia Marroquin is similar to the others being told by thousands of immigrant children who are risking their lives to be smuggled into America.

Sylvia's journey began in Usulutan, El Salvador last year, where she lived with her brother, Alexis. Both of them raised by their grandmother after their father and mother came to America illegally — to Dallas — in 2005.

"It was very difficult to do because my life in El Salvador was very poor," said Elmer Marroquin, Sylvia's father. "I was unable to provide for them with food and a house."

In the last few years, he said conditions in El Salvador became so dire, so dangerous, he decided to get her out.

"It was difficult," said Sylvia, who now lives with her parents in Dallas. "You could not go out by yourself. I was not secure at school or at home. They can just kill you or force you to be recruited into the street gangs... and if you don't agree, they just kill you."

Sylvia said the final straw came last year when her 8th grade teacher was murdered in an episode of gang violence.

"When they killed my teacher, I felt unsafe," she said. "I didn't want to go back to school. That's when my father asked if I wanted to come to the U.S., and I said 'yes.'"

Her father said he paid a "coyote" $4,500 to deliver his daughter to the Texas-Mexico border. It was a two-week trek through hostile terrain with a smuggler who she said not only endangered her life, but assaulted her.

Sylvia's group was led to the Rio Grande River, where they used their own devices to get to Texas.

"We had to build a boat so we could cross the river," Sylvia said. "We then had to walk some more and wait until a Border Patrol car showed up."

Her father, who works as a painter in Dallas, is facing a final order of deportation, and has to wear an ankle monitor while awaiting removal.

But Elmer Marroquin is not giving up his goal of rescuing his son from the violence back in El Salvador.

"I talk to my son every night, and he explains to me how gangs have taken over his school," Marroquin said. "They put up a banner and threatened to kill the principal if it was taken down."

Dallas immigration rights activist Ralph Isenberg has been working with Marroquin family for more than a year trying to reunite 10-year-old Alexis with his family in the U.S. El Salvador government officials have signed off on the move, which Isenberg said constitutes a lawful surrender.Sylvia has been reunited with her parents in Dallas. But for how long?

But U.S. immigration officials won't sign off on the arrangement.

"The El Salvadorian government has said I can go get him and bring him to Dallas with his parents," Isenberg said. "There's not even any family left in El Salvador except a sick grandmother who needs to be in a nursing home. It is an absolute shame."

If Isenberg's efforts continue to be rejected, Alexis' father fears his only option is to again trust his child's life to a smuggler and a two-week trek to America.

But he also feels the greater risk is leaving him in a country where danger and poverty has become a way of life.


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