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Serving Refugee Children

Listening to Stories of Detention in the USA

Edited By Montse Feu and Amanda Venta

Serving Refugee Children shows the struggles and traumatic experiences that unaccompanied and undocumented children undergo they seek safety in the United States and instead find imprisonment, separation from their families, and immigration enforcement raids. Current legislation and bureaucracy limit publication of first-person narratives from unaccompanied and undocumented children, but service providers and grassroots activists authoring the pieces in this collection bear witness to the children’s brave human spirits in their search for safety in the United States. Through the power of storytelling, Serving Refugee Children exposes the many hardships unaccompanied and undocumented children endure, including current detention center conditions. No child should have to live the persecution suffered by children featured in these stories, nor should they have to embark upon perilous journeys across Latin America or be subjected to the difficult immigration court process unaided. Researchers and readers who believe that the emotional bonding of storytelling can humanize discussions and lead to immigration policies that foster a culture of engagement and interconnectedness will be interested in this volume.

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Chapter 8. Francisco Villegas and Paloma Villegas


F. Villegas and P. Villegas describe their own schooling experience in the 1990s. As undocumented children, school felt like a psychological border built on the stressors emanating from the fears about deportation, proper access to resources, and bullying.

The poem and image by Paloma Villegas published in this anthology illustrate the crossing of borders without state required documents. This narrative focuses on the last two stanzas of the poem that detail the processes through which borders encrust themselves onto our bodies. One way to think through that process is through the concept of internal borders: borders that extend beyond the geographic delineation of nation-states and impact migrants as they go through their day-to-day lives.1 More specifically, we focus on one internal border: schooling. Schooling is often considered the great equalizer, the “meritocratic” structure that will facilitate social mobility and financial stability. However, the intersections of race, gender, class, and immigration status serve as significant barriers to realizing this dream.←153 | 154→

We were born in Mexico and arrived in the U.S. at the ages of 11 and 8. This was the early 1990s California, when anti-immigrant rhetoric manifested itself openly with policies such as Proposition 187. Upon our arrival, Francisco enrolled in the 7th grade and Paloma in the 4th grade. We always knew we were undocumented, however, understanding the consequences of this classification came in stages, acquired piece-meal, as “nuggets” of information every time we were ineligible to do something considered age-appropriate.


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