An Unaccompanied Journey
By: Darwin Velasquez
I was born in La Union, El Salvador where I spent the first twelve years of my life. My biggest dream as a kid was to become a pilot. In 2005, my parents left El Salvador to escape violence and to give us a better life. Two years later, I received a call from my father who was in the U.S. telling me I was leaving El Salvador the very next day. There was no explanation. It wasn’t a choice.
The next day I left El Salvador with one set of clothes, my eleven year old brother and $250 for the two of us. Throughout Guatemala and Mexico we shared the packed buses for eighteen hours a day with windows that didn’t open. The buses were crowded, the smells were powerful, and I worried each day about our safety. Luckily, many people were kind enough to help and host us along the way.
When we jumped the fence in Mexico, I twisted my ankle and ICE officials arrived immediately. They were screaming, “put your hands up, don’t move.” They took me and my younger brother under their custody and we were classified as unaccompanied children. While I was under their custody I was terrified to be deported, not so much for myself, but for my parents. It was a very stressful situation. Sleeping at the detention center was uncomfortable, it was cold and the food was terrible. We just wanted to be with our family. Worst of all, the officers treated me and my brother like we were criminals.
However difficult the journey, I am very grateful. I would not be here today if it weren’t for all of the people who helped us along the way. I remember the Quiñones family in El Paso, Texas that hosted us while we waited to be released and reunited with our parents. They gave us love, hope and introduced us to their family and friends. They treated me like their son and it helped me not to miss my parents as much. Rafael Franco, a Bay Area gardener, put his whole family on the line to become my sponsor in order for me to be released to my parents in San Francisco. These people gave me and my brother a second chance.
After I was released, I was required to go to court. In my second hearing, I remembered being there without knowing the language, not dressed appropriately for court and without an attorney. I remembered the prosecutor telling the judge “your honor, this child should not be allowed to stay in the United States. He should be deported if he comes back without an attorney.” I understood the word deportation and I did not return for more than four years. The Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto helped me reopen my case and made me aware of my deportation order. Not only did they help me close my deportation order, they helped me emotionally. Now I can reach for my dreams without fear.
There are no words that can describe how thankful I am to the organizations that have supported me and my leadership. Thank you to College Track, Emerson Collective, E4FC and the Investment in Success Foundation. The mentorship was nothing short of life changing.
Thanks to the many advocates in our great State who fought for DACA, I am happy to announce that I will study abroad in Paris next week. For some it is a policy, for me it is a life changing opportunity. I will be able to travel to Europe to learn a new culture and political system. If it wasn’t for DACA, I would not have this opportunity to develop academically and to also feel empowered.
Today, I am proud of how far I’ve come and where I can go. After college, I plan to study law. I want to give others a voice and support my community.
Thank you to everyone who cares about young people like me and about the thousands of child refugees who are escaping violence. With you support and advocacy, you are giving us a second chance at life.
Darwin Valesquez emigrated from El Salvador at age 12, where he grew up in an impoverished community. He was born with cataracts, leaving him with limited vision. At his school in El Salvador, he learned only through listening and talking. However, after coming to the United States, he eventually learned to read and write through hard work and determination. He was a leader both in and out of the classroom. Excited to continue his education after graduating from Washington High School, Darwin applied and was accepted to one of his dream schools. Unfortunately, upon finding out about his undocumented status, the college rescinded his acceptance. To Darwin, this felt like the end of his academic journey. However, he used this moment as motivation and decided to enroll at Skyline Community College, where he is now pursuing a degree in International Relations. The City of San Francisco’s Youth Commission named him as one of their eight “Youth of Year”, awards given to those who display exceptional leadership and service to the community. Darwin has also served as an Outreach Ambassador for Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC), a role through which he provided hope, inspiration, and valuable information to the undocumented community. Eventually, Darwin plans to go to law school to study International Law.