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Central American migrants detail journey, reasons for coming to US

(Griselda Zetino/KTAR)

Enriqueta smiled ear-to-ear as she saw her three young sons playing and running around. It had been almost three weeks since she last saw them this happy.

“They can finally be kids again,” she said.

Eighteen days prior, she and her three boys – ages 6, 8 and 10 – left Guatemala and headed to the United States. The trip spanned more than 2,000 miles. They mostly traveled by bus.

“I didn’t sleep much on our way here,” Enriqueta said. “I was afraid to sleep and wake up and not find my kids with me.”

When they reached Mexico’s border with Arizona, they turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents and asked for asylum. Days later, they were dropped off at the Grove, a Christian church in Chandler.

Enriqueta and her three sons are among the thousands of migrants seeking asylum who’ve been released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to churches across the Valley in the last two months.

Many came to the U.S. to escape violence, government corruption and poverty in Central America.

Enriqueta, who asked not to be identified because she feared for her and her sons’ safety, said she came to flee gang violence and extortion.

“You see a lot of that in Guatemala,” she said. “On the other hand, you don’t see much of that here in the United States. That’s why we came here.”

They were dropped off at the Grove on Thursday, along with about 150 other migrants also released by ICE. Volunteers greeted them with smiles and escorted them to a gym.

“When we arrived, we were greeted by angels that fell from heaven,” Enriqueta said, referring to the volunteers. “They gave us food, water and even clothes. We are very grateful.”

Luis, who asked not to be identified, said he and his wife and their two daughters also fled dangerous conditions in their home country of Nicaragua.

He said they decided to journey north to the U.S. after his cousin was shot for speaking against Nicaragua’s current political regime. Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Nicaragua due to the government’s corruption and “violent response” to protests.

“We left because I don’t feel it’s safe for my daughters – for my whole family,” he said. “The insecurity is alarming in Nicaragua right now.”

The family traveled together but were separated when they reached Arizona’s border with Mexico and were apprehended by Border Patrol agents. He and his 7-year-old daughter made it to the Grove on Thursday while his wife and 9-year-old daughter remain in a detention center.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be reunited soon,” he said.

For several hours on Thursday, the gym at the Grove was filled with bustle and activity.

In one area, volunteers sat with laptops helping migrants buy plane and bus tickets to reunite with relatives in the U.S. In another, tables were set up with clothes, shoes, backpacks, toiletries, and baby necessities for the migrants to pick out. There were also toys for the kids.

After securing a bus or plane ticket and picking out what they needed from the piles of donations, the migrants were connected with host families who volunteered to take them to their homes. The migrants would stay there until they could get on their way to reunite with their loved ones in the U.S.

Enriqueta said she was hoping to reunite with her husband in San Francisco and Luis said he hoped to reach Los Angeles to reunite with his mother, whom he hadn’t seen in more than two decades.

Palmer Chinchen, a pastor at the Grove, said about 200 families have signed up to host migrants since October, including him and his wife.

Chinchen said for him and his wife, opening their home to migrants “is one of our strongest callings as followers of Jesus Christ.”

“We’re just trying to live out the love of Christ as we feel we’ve been called to do,” he added.

The couple has taken in two migrant families and took in a third family, a mother and her 5-year-old daughter from Guatemala, on Thursday.

The Guatemalan mother, who asked to be identified as Angelina, said poverty is what drove her to leave her home country with her daughter.

“There are no jobs. There are very few opportunities to get ahead,” she said, referring to the conditions she faced in Guatemala. “I came here to get a job, so I can provide for my daughter.”

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