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PhD Candidate Describes His Illegal Journey Into The U.S.

Jose Luis Zalaya (Credit: Jose Luis Zalaya)

Jose Luis Zalaya (Credit: Jose Luis Zalaya)

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KRLD – “We walked a lot without water, many days we went without food,” says Jose Luis Zelaya, who made the long and treacherous journey into Texas through the deserts of Mexico when he was about 13.

“The reason you are without food is because, if you eat, your body requires more water, but if you have no water in the desert, many times you result to drinking the river water or drinking from [cattle tanks].”

Zelaya left his home country of Honduras — where he was a beggar on the streets — to escape an abusive father and to find his mother who had crossed into Houston illegally about a year earlier.

He says that when he wasn’t walking through the desert, he was riding on top of freight trains, which are often used by Mexican drug cartels for smuggling.

“And these trains known as ‘The Beast’ are a very dangerous place to be. Not only are these trains traveling at 40 MPH, but on top of these trains you have gang members who are raping children, who are stealing children,” says Zelaya. “I’ve experienced little girls just being physically abused in front of my eyes — and you can’t say anything! You just can’t! Because these people have weapons in front of you.”

Zelaya On His Illegal Journey Into The U.S.

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1080 KRLD

He says he still wakes up screaming at night from one horrific memory on the trains.

“The one thing that I still sleep at night with, the one thing that I still cry about even in class…. Was one time when I was on the train and there was this man — I can still see his face because we made eye contact — and as he was running towards the train to be able to grab onto the stairs, his pants got caught underneath the rail… And this man’s blood ended up on my face.”

Zelaya, who is still in the country illegally, is now 27-years-old and a Ph.D candidate at Texas A&M, where he’s a Texas Dream Act student.

Doug Stump with the American Immigration Lawyers Association says close to 400 children just like Zelaya are coming into the country on a daily basis.

“These 13 or 14 year old kids aren’t coming here to work I don’t think,” Stump says. “They’re leaving because its an impoverished country, there’s a lot of violence there, a lot of forced inscription into gangs. So they’re fleeing that country much like refugees would do from a country in Africa or somewhere in the Middle East.”

But Congressman Ted Poe (R-Houston) says regardless of their situation, the fact is thousands of immigrants are still crossing into the country illegally and something has to be done about it.

“The policy of the government is open borders — people hear that overseas, they hear about it in our hemisphere — and they’re coming in and nothing is happening to them, except the kids are being taken care of by local officials,” Poe says. “Overwhelmingly, it’s a bad situation because the administration I think promotes lawlessness on border security, which is a national security issue and we feel that problem in Texas.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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