2021 notebook: children flock to the Mexican border
THE BACKGROUND: 2021 was to be loaded at the Mexican border. President Joe Biden, who took office in January, had said he was going to be a more welcoming president than his predecessor, President Donald Trump, and that alone was enough to encourage migrants to attempt to come to the United States.
But arrivals exceeded expectations shortly after taking office. Children traveling alone broke previous highs in March. The Border Patrol has encountered migrants in South Texas more often than ever in June and July. And about 15,000 refugees, mostly Haitians, camped under a bridge in a Texas border town in September.
The administration began a mass deportation of Haitians while allowing thousands to stay in the United States.
Here, the Associated Press reporters involved in the coverage reflect on the story and their own experiences.
ELLIOT SPAGAT: correspondent, San Diego.
So when I was in the Rio Grande Valley and in March, we were among the few journalists to enter a detention center where there were nearly 4,000 unaccompanied children. There were 500 or 600 kids in some of those pods that were designed for 25 under COVID guidelines. They were piled up there like sardines. It was really something to see. A 17-year-old woman who had just given birth was allowed in a separate area, but the conditions were even worse than those I saw under Trump. The chain-link fences of previous administrations, sometimes called “cages”, have been replaced with plastic – thick plastic sheets. It was basically the same.
It was the third time since 2014 that a very large number of migrants had crossed paths, including many families and children from Central America but also increasingly from South America and Africa. Many of them are released, which encourages more to come. But then those who perhaps need it most cannot pass, for various reasons. I was haunted by it: there was a woman from El Salvador who had to flee her house in the middle of the night because a policeman was after her, wanted to kidnap her and take it over, and she didn’t want to that he would know where his children were. So she didn’t even say goodbye to them and she ran away. But she was kidnapped, raped and prostituted while in Mexico. She was assaulted in Tijuana and was unable to cross to seek asylum. There are people like her, and it’s just sad that they can’t get in. Then other people who are probably less deserving of it – in the sense that they are coming just for work – have made it in.
GREG BULL, photographer, based in San Diego:
In May, for about a week, we had continuous coverage of people arriving in droves. They cross the border and seek asylum. …. The vast majority were families entering, so they calmly walked to the nearest (border) officer and surrendered. But what we saw more and more, and I’m sure you heard it from the others, we started to see a bunch of kids come in. And it was by far the most poignant and shocking thing to see: these 12 year old kids walking in the mud in the middle of the night, in the rain, alone.
We met this girl Emely, and she is 8, from Honduras. And she cries. She lost a shoe in the mud. She’s with this group, but she’s kind of an appendix to the group. And there are younger mothers in that group who weren’t nice to her, just arguing with her a little bit. Like, “Come on, keep going. Where is your shoe How do you lose your shoe? “They’re less than sympathetic at this point, and she’s just crying. She meets the agent and it’s the middle of the night. … She has no documents, no documents. information, she has no “I don’t know where her mother lived in the United States, or her parents lived in the United States. She didn’t even know where she came from at the last point in Mexico, but she is from Honduras. And (border officials) had no way to tie this kid to anyone on the American side, or anywhere.
So she just had to be put in the system, and then people were going to have to try to find a way to link her to someone. We got information on her and I sent the photo in the middle of the night and she ended up circulating all over the country on Spanish news channels. His mother was in Austin, Texas, saw him and thought, “This is my daughter.” ) Adriana Gomez and the video by Eugene Garcia (AP). So the three of us were able to tie this family together. It’s the coolest thing that has happened to me over the years. I was so excited.
JULIO CORTEZ, Baltimore-based AP photographer:
A little bit on my background: I came to the United States when I was 10 years old, and we were in a detention center for about a week. So I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what people are going through. … In fact, my career has opened up a great opportunity for me.
One of the stories I am most proud of is that of Yancarlos, a 5 year old boy from Honduras. I’m coming home (to Baltimore) from the border … and I’m at the airport, going about my business eating a sandwich, waiting for my plane, and overhearing a conversation behind me. A man asks this little boy in Spanish, “Are you excited to learn English?” Are you excited to go to school in America? And it lit a light bulb in my head so I dropped everything, went to talk to the mother of the child and said, “Where are you from? Were you in one of these detention centers? She’s like, yeah. “And you got asylum?” ” Yeah. So all things started to line up. So of course, now it’s my turn to say, “Well, I’d like to take a picture of you.” I thought it was going to be just a quick portrait or something. And then I asked, “Where are you going, anyway?” And she said, “Oh, my brother is waiting for us in Baltimore.” And I’m like, “Wait a minute. Are you on that next flight to Houston, then Houston to Baltimore? “And she said,” Yeah, “I said,” Oh, please let me take a picture of you. along the way. Let me tell your stories. “
The mother said at first âNo I don’t like cameras, I don’t know who you are. So I gave him my card and said, âLook, this is a real business. It’s my name. âAnd she still didn’t want to. And I said, ‘The reason I want to tell your story is that we never hear what happens after that. And I can relate to you because “- and I explained how it was for us, how we were in a detention center, how we were in a room with just a mattress and no bedding, no ‘pillows, nothing. We were there for a week and I said, “What your kid has been through the last few days, I went through when I was a kid. And you know, no one has ever told my story, which is good, but I want to tell his story. ” And she said, “OK, you can take a picture of us.”
It was just such a cute story. The boy is 5 and wears a little Superman outfit with a little hoodie, and he looks out the window and sees his very first plane he’ll ever be in, and he and his mom have never flown. â¦ Mom is terrified but the little boy, once they’re up in the air, he touches all the buttons, and she says, âNo, no. And I say, “No, I understand. I remember my first flight. âSo that was a really cool story because I just followed them along the way and told a really lovely story from Yancarlos who wasn’t sent back to Honduras where things are really, really scary to him.
For a full overview of the events that shaped 2021, âA Year That Changed Us: 12 Months in 150 Photosâ, a collection of AP photos and journalist memorabilia, is available now: https: // www. ap.org/books / a-year-that-changed-us