By Stan Friedman
TORRANCE, CA (January 2, 2014) — Editors note: Since the beginning of the year, some 70,000 unaccompanied minors, most of them from Honduras and El Salvador, fled to the United States to escape extreme violence and poverty in their native countries. In June alone, 10,622 children were apprehended along the Rio Grande River.
Since then, the number of children has slowed to a relative trickle of several hundred a month, and the media coverage has dwindled to almost nothing. But many of those who already arrived still are awaiting hearings to determine whether they will be deported, and the conditions that led to the exodus remain.
In recent weeks, Covenant News Service spoke with three women whose attention has remain fixed. Itzel Yared Morales Gutierrez is working with children detained by authorities on the border of Honduras and Mexico; Margarita Monsalve, pastor of Navegando con Cristo Church in Torrance, California, continues to work with children and families; and Shelley Kurth is preparing to help children who have been transferred by the Border Patrol to the Grand Rapids area in Michigan.
Isabella was 14 years old when she fled the overwhelming amount of violence in her native Honduras while she was pregnant—the result of being raped—to make the dangerous journey to the United States, and was among the some 70,000 children who crossed the border illegally between January 1 of 2014 and the end of the year.
Today, with the help of Covenant church planter Margarita Monsalve, her Covenant congregation Navegando con Cristo Ministries, and others in the community, Isabella (not her real name) is attending classes, living with a local family, and getting needed counseling.
Isabella, now 15, fled San Pedro, Honduras, considered to be the city with the highest murder rate in the country with the world’s highest murder rate and which is overwhelmed by intense poverty, traffickers, and drug gangs. Pregnant after being raped, she made the perilous journey to the United States with her older brother and several others.
The group was quickly detained after crossing the border in Texas. Her brothers and friends were sent to a holding center in Louisiana. Daisy was held in McAllen, Texas.
When she started to go into labor, guards didn’t believe her, says Margarita Monsalve, a Covenant pastor in Torrance, California. They told her to go back to her own country. Eventually, she was taken to a local clinic where her baby was born dead. (She does not allege that the guards’ treatment contributed to the death).
Monsalve learned of Isabella’s plight from a woman named Valdena who attends her congregation. Valdena traveled to Texas and brought her back to Torrance, where Isabella has a sister living. Valdena and Monsalve also traveled to Louisiana, where Isabella’s brother and others in their group were being detained. Authorities there would not let them see Isabella’s brother or others in the group, all of whom were eventually deported. Isabella’s brother turned 18 while in detention and thus no longer fell under the unaccompanied minors act.
When Isabella arrived in Torrance, the church threw her a welcoming party, just as they have for all 20 people they have helped. Monsalve says the people should be considered refugees.
“This is something God has called me to do,” Monsalve says.
Monsalve shares a similar history. She was arrested in 2010 and threatened with deportation. She came to this country in 1990, fleeing communist guerillas in Colombia who had targeted her family because of the family’s leadership in the business community, supporters say. She initially applied for political asylum, but a series of errors by her lawyers ultimately led to the deportation order.
Several Covenant churches had been supporting her congregation, which focuses its outreach to low-income families and addicts. Those churches along with superintendents from several conferences, and national leaders signed the petition. She ultimately was given permission to stay in the country.
The fates of the people who Navejando con Cristo Ministries has supported remain undecided as their cases work through the legal system. “They still are afraid of being sent back.”
In the meantime, Monsalve says she hopes other Covenant congregations will extend welcomes to the families fleeing violence and that some of the larger churches will provide various kinds of support to the smaller congregations helping the refugees.
Other stories in this series:
The denomination’s Kids Helping Kids project this year focuses on refugees.