Guatemalan Teen Fights to Stay in New Jersey

By Michael Hill

At 15, Jose — that’s not his real name — made the decision to leave his family and home in Guatemala. One reason, he says, a gang was trying to recruit or kidnap him or a younger sister and one night tried to break in his house.

“Could have been a break-in or they could have tried to kidnap one of them to try to get ransom,” he said.

Jose says another reason is domestic violence. His dad had a mistress and Jose would defend his mother from his dad’s punches and kicks but of course some would land on Jose.

His family paid a guide nearly $2,000 to take him from Totonicapan to the U.S. — more than 2,200 miles. He says the guide took him and six others by bus to the Guatemalan-Mexican border. Then on a freight train called The Beast.

“They call it the beast because a lot of people didn’t make it out of it. They either fell off the train or couldn’t hold on and plenty people died,” he said.

Like other unaccompanied minors, Jose’s journey to Arizona took 25 days. He walked across the border in March and wound up in a shelter in Phoenix and then on to an uncle in Morristown and then had his case transferred to Newark for deportation.

At some point Jose will come to Newark to federal court, immigration court to have his say to make his claim to stay in the United States. His attorney says he has a good, legitimate reason or two to stay put.

“Folks like Jose are both in terms of being a victim of domestic violence and expecting that the police would come? It’s outlandish to consider if, some of the things he describes happened here in Morristown and a phone call to police they’d be here in a New York minute but not in Guatemala,” said lawyer Brian O’Neil.

All of the burden of proof falls on Jose. His lawyer will ask for asylum knowing this case has substantial hurdles.

“Immigration law is like the game of stepping on the sidewalk, where the game is if you step on a crack you may lose the game,” O’Neil said.

New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control says stop the invasion, hold expedited hearings and roll up the welcome mat.

“Deport them. They should have expedited. This is a crisis situation and they should be treated humanely. They should be deported humanely,” said Gayle Kesselman.

But Jose says all that he’s endured to get here should allow him to stay. But it will be up to an immigration judge to decide whether he’s proven his case.