I was an Unaccompanied Child

Lately I have been avoiding the news as I fear catching a piece about the current unaccompanied children crisis. I like to think that over the years I have grown a thick skin when it comes to immigration news, but this recent event hits home hard. I was an unaccompanied child myself you see.

I was born in Michoacan, not far geographically from the starting point for today’s unaccompanied children. Unlike contemporary unaccompanied children my journey took me a day while theirs takes much longer. I am a proper illegal alien – I asked no one for permission to enter. Today’s unaccompanied children aren’t illegal aliens – they’re asking for humanitarian migrant statuses. In the end of the day though these differences are superficial. We were both children at the border.

I was two years old when I crossed over. I remember broad strokes of the incident, but most of the details come second hand. My parents did not accompany me, but I did have my eleven-month-old sister with me.

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Our journey began in my town of birth, Morelia. We flew to Tijauna, accompanied as far as we could be by my grandfather. At this point we had already flown across half a dozen sovereign state borders. As Mexican citizens though we had the recognized right to freely travel within the federation. Unfortunately the right to freely travel is not yet universally recognized.

In Tijuana we met up with a smuggler who would get us through the US-Mexican border. My sister and I made the crossing by stowing away in a car. We had US passports prepared just in case but we never used them. The car we were in was waived in without inspection, we were lucky for that. When we were safely in California we were picked up by an Aunt and spent the next few weeks playing with our cousins. We were only unaccompanied for a few hours between being dropped off in Tijuana and being picked up on the other side. Nonetheless we could have been caught by border patrol, kidnapped by the smuggler who passed us through, or taken during any of the countless times when we were surrounded only by strangers.

When people hear about young children crossing the border on their own there is an understandable level of skepticism. It is difficult to imagine allowing children unattended for more than a few minutes in the United States. Abroad the cultural norms are different though. Shortly after I had learned to crawl I regularly made cross town between my parent’s and grandparent’s homes, accompanied only by my pet dog. At any rate a journey across the US-Mexican border was little different in principle to my two year old self and I took a disinterested approach to it. I do wonder how my sister kept quiet throughout the journey though – did she think it was a game of hide and seek?

Where were my parents during all of this? My mother was crossing the border on foot. My sister and I were young so it was relatively easy for us to pass through the safer path, but my mother had no such option. She had to jump over the border fence, crawl inside the sewers, and swim across the ocean. My mother had to do this several times before finally succeeding.

What of my father? He was crossing illegally into Mexico. The details of his journey are so unbelievable that I have given up trying to put them into written word.

During the current crisis some commentators have made a point to discuss how awful the parents of unaccompanied children are to allow their children to undergo such hardships alone. What these commentators fail to take into account is opportunity costs. My sister and I could have crossed over with our mother, but at the cost of having of going through the harder route with her. Likewise we could have stayed in Mexico but at the cost of my newborn sister.

I was born into poverty. My parents tell me that they often had only enough money to feed me and they would go to sleep starving if I didn’t leave any leftovers. When my mother realized she was carrying a second child she desperately wanted to get rid of it. She could barely feed one child! She changed her mind when my sister was born, but she was not delusional to think things could continue as they were. If she was to keep both her children we needed to migrate to the US. We tried entering legally, but there was no viable legal route to do so.

After making our separate ways into the country our family was reunited on March 3rd 1994, my sister’s first birthday. We settled down in Los Angeles and our lives have been largely uneventful since then. We tried self-deporting in the early 2000s, but Mexico did not recognize either myself or my sister as Mexicans since our names were not Hispanic.

After two decades in California I am still an illegal alien, albeit I am a DACA recipient. For two decades I could have been deported at any moment. If I am truthful with myself though I have never been in danger of deportation, why would I be? Los Angeles is a sanctuary city for migrants. California in turn has made great strides to protect its migrant population with the passage of the TRUST Act and related legislation. The Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has allowed me to travel across the US the past few years in relative safety. I have never lived in the shadows, although I have lived with restraints . In California proper I am little different from anyone else in legal rights, but this is only true in California.

My primary school teachers all knew I was an illegal alien. My friends and neighbors know I am an illegal alien. I even told my friends in the college conservative club that I was an illegal alien; they had been planning to go to a shooting range as a club activity and I had to explain to them why I couldn’t attend. It goes without saying that I have told all my employers about my migrant status and included a note about the matter when I applied to graduate school. Why should I lie about who I am? I have done nothing wrong.

I do not advocate open borders in the hope that it will lead to my being ‘allowed’ to stay. I have already migrated and lived in California for decades. I could have been deported countless times or ostracized, but instead I’ve been welcomed at each turn. No, I don’t advocate open borders for myself. I don’t even advocate open borders on behalf of other illegal aliens like me. If I advocate open borders for anyone it is that abstract concept known as ‘humanity’ which we are all part of me. I advocate open borders because it is both morally just and economically efficient.

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Michelangelo Landgrave

Michelangelo Landgrave is an economics graduate student at California State University, Long Beach.