DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Wiping away tears, 17-year-old Jorge Gonzalez told CBS 11 News he met his mother Maritza for the first time when he arrived in Dallas four days ago.
Speaking through a translator he said, “It was very emotional, very, very emotional to be able to hold her, to be able to hug her.”
His mother said he was just six months old when she left their home in Guatemala for the U.S. She said she has been here since then and is now on a visa as a victim of domestic violence.
About two months ago, Ms. Gonzalez told us she paid a friend $4,000 to bring Jorge here and said it would have cost her more had federal agents not apprehended him when he crossed the border in McAllen. “It’s a lot of money”.
A translator speaking for Ms. Gonzalez said, “She would have paid it because it was her son and she wanted her son close to her.”
The translator said Ms. Gonzalez told her, “It was very emotional for her. She was worried, very worried. She was happy because he was coming but also very scared because she didn’t know in what her child was going to run into.”
CBS 11 met the Gonzalez family as they attended a seminar at Catholic Charities in Dallas, which advises migrants who’ve been released from detention and their parents or guardians of their legal options before they face an immigration judge.
The agency says there’s been an increase recently in the number of people attending the class.
Nubia Torres, Director of Immigration Legal Services at Catholic Charities said, “Over the last several months, we have seen a continuous increase of the children who are being released to the custodians, a guardian or a parent who is caring for them. It has been constantly busier however it has not been an extremely large number, just because they’re being released at a steady pace and not all at once.”
Torres said recently the number of new cases involving unaccompanied children rose from between 90-120 each month to about 130.
Many of the unaccompanied minors are between the ages of 14 and 18 and are from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. But Torres said they’ve also seen more youngsters recently from Nicaragua.
Torres said the agency provides the services as part of a U.S. Justice Department grant. “We try to determine whether or not they actually do qualify for a benefit in the United States. We explain to them what the process is at immigration court, when they have to go, what to expect when they go.”
The agency represents some migrants in court, but Torres said most must either represent themselves or hire an attorney.
Catholic Charities tries to connect families with attorneys who will take on the cases pro bono.
Jorge Gonzalez’s arrival in Dallas comes as U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen sent Congress a letter late last week saying —
“We are grappling with a humanitarian and security catastrophe that is worsening by the day… Historically, the vast majority of aliens we encountered were single-adult males from Mexico who could be quickly removed after a short period of detention if they had no legal right to stay. Today, the majority are families and unaccompanied children, who pose a unique challenge to the system because most cannot be easily cared for, efficiently processed, or expeditiously removed, due to resource constraints and outdated laws.”
Nielsen told Congress that late last year, agents apprehended between 50,000 and 60,000 migrants each month, but last month, that number rose to more than 75,000, the most she said in more than a decade.
The Secretary said in March, they were on track to apprehend nearly 100,000 migrants at the southern border.
On Monday, Nielsen ordered Customs and Border Patrol to “undertake emergency surge operations” and move more personnel and resources as a response to the increase in migrants crossing the border.
President Donald Trump has threatened to shut down the border this week.
Before arriving in Dallas, Jorge Gonzalez said he was flown from McAllen to Houston, then transferred to Miami where he said he stayed in a detention center for 21 days.
But he told CBS 11 his journey to the U.S. didn’t go exactly as he and his mother planned. He said he travelled from Guatemala with his 21-year-old brother. But when they were both apprehended at the border, he said they were separated and that border agents sent his brother back to Guatemala.
Gonzalez said he wasn’t scared to make the long journey because he was with his older brother. He said he only became scared when they were separated.
Gonzalez told the translator, “He’s very sad because he’s going to miss his brother. His brother took care of him and now he doesn’t have his brother.”
Ms. Gonzalez said while her older son is back in Guatemala and living with his great-grandmother, she still worries about him and the violence in that country.
For now, she said she is relieved to be with Jorge.
He told CBS 11 he’s been treated with a lot of respect by the people he’s met in Dallas, something he said he didn’t experience back home.
Because of a large backlog in the federal immigration courts, Torres and other experts say it could take more than two years before he can present his case to a judge.
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which gathers U.S. government statistics, the backlog of cases at federal immigration courts reached 855,807 at the end of February.
During that same time, the backlog of cases in immigration courts in Texas amounted to 124,277, including 26,708 in Dallas.
Only the immigration courts in the State of California had a higher backlog at 153,443 cases.
Gonzalez told us he enjoys studying and that he is looking forward to attending high school here in North Texas.