Nightmare journey to America ends with two orphaned little girls

GUATEMALA CITY – Valeria, 8, and Fernanda, 4, embarked on the riskiest journey of their young lives last year. Their mother, Francisca, had promised them that going to America would give them everything they could imagine. But they didn’t understand why they walked for hours under the sun, spent nights in unfamiliar dark rooms, and entrusted their lives to a smuggler whom their mother called “the good man.”

Despite this, the girls obeyed their mother. She left them at the Guatemala-Mexico border in December 2021, like 95 percent of migrant children who are dropped off at the border by their parents — mostly because as unaccompanied minors they have a better chance of entering the U.S. alone, according to the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Where is my mother? … I did what my mother told me to do”

— Valeria

Valeria and her sister, who hail from the severely impoverished town of Escuintla and whose father recently passed away, did not understand why their mother had abandoned them in the middle of the perilous journey.

“My mother told me to go with the man who would take me to a place where I could have what I never had in my country,” Valeria told The Daily Beast. “I had to take care of my younger sister; I got her a baby bottle because I know what she eats and changed her diapers,” Valeria said. The smuggler, known as Coyote, “sometimes would bring me food when I was going to wash his clothes,” she added.

The immigration of thousands of Central American children to the United States has increased sharply in recent years. According to U.S. Border and Customs Protection, 149,308 Central American minors attempted to cross the border from 2020 to 2022. Poverty, violence and corruption are why some parents feel they have no choice but to send their children on perilous journeys to the US border alone.

Parents often hide the dangers that their children could be exposed to while traveling as unaccompanied minors, so as not to frighten them. But those risks are all too real for kids like Valeria and Fernanda. “Central American migrants in transit face a range of conditions that expose them to kidnapping, sexual violence, torture, theft and bribes by a variety of bad actors,” Ariel G. Ruiz Soto of the Migration Policy Institute told The Daily Beast .

The girls spent several weeks in a house with dark rooms and little food with other immigrants in Ciudad Juárez – one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities. They then entered the United States via El Paso, Texas, and were picked up by an acquaintance of their mother’s in the United States.

But their time in the US was short-lived: After struggling to adjust to life in their new home, the acquaintance they were living with eventually contacted ICE and informed agents that the girls asked to return to Guatemala. Their deportation was eventually coordinated by ICE and the Guatemalan government in March.


Adding to their grief was that the girls’ mother, Francisca, died in a drowning accident while attempting to enter the United States and join her daughters in February.

When the girls arrived at the women’s shelter in Guatemala about a month later, the counselors there quickly realized that the children did not know what had happened to their mother. “Where is my mother? … I did what my mother told me to do,” an employee of the deportation officer recalled Valeria’s words. With their biological father dead, the girls were eventually sent to the home of their uncle, their late father’s brother.



Despite the trauma already suffered, the reintegration process will surely be another tough struggle for the girls, experts say. “Their return to Guatemala is worse for these children because they return to the same environment they left and lost their innocence in the process,” their case officer told The Daily Beast.

Shelter staff were surprised by the maturity of Valeria, who — aged just 8 — took care of her younger sister throughout her trip, the case officer said.

At one point in the shelter, the girls were asked to draw and paint as a form of art therapy. When Valeria and Fernanda painted their mother, they represented her as a ghost; someone who only exists every now and then in his life. In another drawing, they painted themselves in a closed place by a river, hiding from “bad people” with guns.

“I’m afraid of the dark,” Valeria is said to have said about her drawing. Nightmare journey to America ends with two orphaned little girls


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