What Happens To Children When Parents Die Trying To Cross The US/Mexican  Border?

Raymundo Ávila, 8, cries after not being allowed to follow a group of visitors that left the orphanage. Raymundo often has to be distracted when visitors leave to keep him from becoming upset

 

Editorial and Portrait Photographer Eric Kayne is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography.  From his project ‘Orphaned at the Border‘.  To see Eric’s body of work click on any image.

 

A pair of wire cutters in one hand, a long strand of barbed wire in the other, Armando Bermudez sat on the roof of Casa Pepito, an orphanage in Agua Prieta, Mexico. “You know what this means to me?” he asked. “Oppression,” he said as he tucked the wire into a holding notch. Barbed wire is usually used to keep unwelcome guests out. Here, the wire keeps the residents in. The barbed wire is put in place for the benefit of the children. Often, confused and scared, they try and escape in the night by scaling the walls into the streets. Casa Pepito serves the youngest of clients in Agua Prieta, a border town across the line from Douglas, Arizona. Children, some of whom have witnessed their parents’ death from exposure in crushing desert heat while trying to enter into the United States, call this place home. The Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, a Mexician social services government organization that runs orphanages throughout Mexico, searches for possible relatives and placement.

A pair of wire cutters in one hand, a long strand of barbed wire in the other, Armando Bermudez sat on the roof of Casa Pepito, an orphanage in Agua Prieta, Mexico. “You know what this means to me?” he asked. “Oppression,” he said as he tucked the wire into a holding notch. Barbed wire is usually used to keep unwelcome guests out. Here, the wire keeps the residents in.
The barbed wire is put in place for the benefit of the children. Often, confused and scared, they try and escape in the night by scaling the walls into the streets.
Casa Pepito serves the youngest of clients in Agua Prieta, a border town across the line from Douglas, Arizona. Children, some of whom have witnessed their parents’ death from exposure in crushing desert heat while trying to enter into the United States, call this place home. The Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, a Mexician social services government organization that runs orphanages throughout Mexico, searches for possible relatives and placement.

 

What happens to the children caught between the demands of the American labor market and a struggling Mexican economy? Many arrive at orphanages clustered along the cities by the U.S./Mexico border. When their parents have died of thirst making the journey across the border, or have succumbed to drug abuse in a major drug traffic zone, children arrive in the care of the Mexican municipal government system.

 

The border fence between Agua Prieta, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona. Crosses on the fence signify people who have died attempting to enter the United States.

The border fence between Agua Prieta, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona. Crosses on the fence signify people who have died attempting to enter the United States.

 

From left, Eulogio Felix, 9, Sergio Valesquez, 6, ÒTiaÓ Lourdes Martinez, and Jennifer Hernandez, 7, play in the courtyard of the orphanage. Despite their situation, the children always find ways to have fun. From "Orphaned at the Border," January 1, 2007 in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico.

From left, Eulogio Felix, 9, Sergio Valesquez, 6, ÒTiaÓ Lourdes Martinez, and Jennifer Hernandez, 7, play in the courtyard of the orphanage. Despite their situation, the children always find ways to have fun.

 

Settling arguments is part of the daily routine. One of the tías, or “aunts” who work at the orphanage said children placed there are “agressivo, pelenciero y ambicioso,” - aggressive, contentious, and stingy.

Settling arguments is part of the daily routine. One of the tías, or “aunts” who work at the orphanage said children placed there are “agressivo, pelenciero y ambicioso,” – aggressive, contentious, and stingy.

 

A Typical Day

Most days are like any other at the orphanage. With a total of 14 children in late January of 2007 (32 children at once is the current record), they spend their time going to school, playing and watching television.

 

Fernando Figueroa, 10, Sergio Valesquez, 6, Rigo Montaño, 9, and Eulogio Felix, 9, watch Lucha Libre, or Mexican-style wrestling on television.

Fernando Figueroa, 10, Sergio Valesquez, 6, Rigo Montaño, 9, and Eulogio Felix, 9, watch Lucha Libre, or Mexican-style wrestling on television.

 

Sergio Valesquez, 6, and Eulogio Felix, 9, play with a rope and a football, tossing it over the wall and pulling it back over again and again

Sergio Valesquez, 6, and Eulogio Felix, 9, play with a rope and a football, tossing it over the wall and pulling it back over again and again

 

The children awake at 6 am in rooms with multiple bunk beds – girls in one, boys in the other. The children get dressed and ready for school. The tías, or aunts, who take care of the children’s basic needs, serve breakfast.

Children who have birth certificates go to local public schools. Those who do not, like Jose, 9, his sister Jenny, 6, and brother J. J., 18 months, stay at Casa Pepito. Jose and Jenny spend their weekdays quietly during the afternoon. Later that afternoon, they leave for a school that will allow them to attend. J. J. stays with the other toddlers at the orphanage.

During visiting days, the parents of the three kids come over to visit. They come during the time Jose and Jenny are in school. In this way, the children’s father, Ron Rye, is only able to visit with J. J. By visiting during a time when Jenny and Jose are at school, the parents by default avoid questions by their older children. When will J. J. get to go home? Rye mumbled when “she gets a job,” referring to his girlfriend and mother of J. J.

The tías are not fond of J. J.’s parents. Tía Ana Rosales said they have to keep an eye on them during their visits because they are “rude” in the way they treat their kids. J. J., a gentle toddler with large black eyes and impossibly long eyelashes, becomes aggressive during his parents’ short visit. Both Rye and his girlfriend reach and grab for his shirt when they want him to come closer. They hold him carelessly upside-down, and are generally gruff in their interactions.

 

Orphan Raymundo Avila, 9, Lorena Rios, son Nathanaiel, seven months, and Evan Rios watch their son Sergio, 7, play during a visitation day. The Rios family has been separated because of parental drug use.

Orphan Raymundo Avila, 9, Lorena Rios, son Nathanaiel, seven months, and Evan Rios watch their son Sergio, 7, play during a visitation day. The Rios family has been separated because of parental drug use.

 

Miriam and Jose Herrera wave goodbye to Hector Galvez, 21 months, who they are in the process of adopting. The adoption process can take up to two years.

Miriam and Jose Herrera wave goodbye to Hector Galvez, 21 months, who they are in the process of adopting. The adoption process can take up to two years.

 

When the children return from school after lunchtime they attend classes at the orphanage for another four hours. Class is generally low-key, with the teacher giving one-on-one instruction with each student, checking their progress frequently. Often, the students get distracted. One student practices writing his signature in loops and curls. He has filled other pages with drawings of popular cartoon characters.

When school is out, the kids usually watch Spanish-dubbed cartoons. Other times they skip rope outside. Dinner is served around 6 pm. After, the kids watch more television as well as fight over toys. According to one of the child care workers, many of the children behave aggressively, fight and hoard toys.

Before the kids are sent to bed, they shower. Dirty clothes are piled in a mix on the floor except for underwear, which is worn in the shower out of modesty. The boys shower en masse. Everyone is in bed before nine o’clock. When the day starts again, these children wake up in beds that aren’t theirs, in a room surrounded by children who aren’t their family, and are taken care of by people who aren’t their parents.

 

“Tía” Ana Rosales carries Hector Galvez, 2, and J. J. Hernandez, 19 months, to bed. The number of children can fluctuate, depending on the time of year.

“Tía” Ana Rosales carries Hector Galvez, 2, and J. J. Hernandez, 19 months, to bed. The number of children can fluctuate, depending on the time of year.

 

See also:

Matagorda

By Eric Kayne

 


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