Solito, Solita

Floor Speech

Date: May 1, 2019
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. SPEIER. Mr. Speaker, innocent children shouldn't pay the price for the President's cruel immigration agenda. Steamrolling the facts and the law, he has implemented policy after failed policy, playing catch and release with his own cabinet.

As the President ratchets up his threats to close the border and cut aid to Central America, thousands of migrants are fleeing their home countries to seek refuge in the United States.

I recently met with the editors of the book ``Solito, Solita''-- Alone, Alone--a collection of oral histories that tells the stories of young refugees in their own words. I rise today to read excerpts from one of them, Gabriel Mendez.

His story begins in a poor, dangerous neighborhood in the capital of Honduras. He says:

When I was just a boy of 7, my cousins raped me for a long time--for a year. They raped me at the river, where they collected water--and in my own home.

. . . Some of my fellow students who belonged to the maras took weapons to school. I told the mareros that I didn't want to bring weapons to school. I was afraid of them. They also wanted me to bring drugs into school. I didn't want to do it, so I left that school. . . . Now the maras were looking for me--to kill me. They were asking my neighbors if they knew me.

When Gabriel was 14, he convinced his mother, who was living in San Francisco, to pay a coyote $6,000 to bring him to the United States. Gabriel recounted the horrors he encountered along the way.

. . . they kept us locked in a house with eight other people for a week. We kept moving. Many days passed without eating or drinking water.

We were taken to the river, where there was a raft. We crossed the river into the United States and moved to a safe house. We spent 4 nights in the desert, including the night of my 15th birthday.

. . . We came upon another group of people who'd been traveling 2 days ahead of us. A young man, under 18, had perished from exposure and lack of water and food. I got stuck in some barbed wire in the desert. The coyote kicked me, ripping my flesh to set me free.

. . . We got to Los Angeles on December 17, 2013. If we didn't pay more money, they threatened to cut off our heads and all kinds of horrible things. My mom said she'd give them another $50, and they piled another 8 people in a van and brought us to San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Gabriel feared for years he would be sent back to Honduras. With the support of his mother and an attorney, he was eventually granted asylum.

Now he is a student at the University of California at Berkeley, with dreams of becoming a lawyer himself.

In an essay, he wrote:

My experience of childhood sexual and domestic abuse has shaped my dreams to become a lawyer, to defend victims and fight for children's rights around the world. My immigration lawyer was a role model for me because she listened to my experiences. I want to continue studying to help children feel protected by the law . . .

If we want to understand the why behind mass migration, we need to listen and learn from these stories.

As Members of Congress, it is our job to uplift these voices and use them to fix a broken immigration system. We must insist on due process for asylum seekers; we must insist on humane treatment of our families; and we must insist on aid to Central America to stem the drivers of migration.

Together, we can prevent more children from risking their lives.