Since I was six, my mom taught me to assume responsibility. She just died, but before she went she said, ‘You know what is needed. I’m leaving you in charge.’ We were four, now we are three; I live with my grandfather and girlfriend. She takes care of him and tends the little shop my mom left us while I work. We look after each other.
I only tried crossing the border to the US once. It was because my mom was sick with a heart disease. She needed medication, and we needed more money. She had that shop and I have worked selling bulk dog food since I was 13, but we still didn’t have enough to pay her bills. My friends in El Paso told me I could make good money there, so I went.
I went late at night, but US Immigration caught me right after I got to the other side. They asked me lots of questions about whether I was alone, or if I was a smuggler. They then sent me to a shelter for the night. In the morning I was transferred to child protection services in Juárez, where my mom picked me up. They treated me pretty well actually. But I decided never to do that again. I never want to be locked up like that ever again.
She needed medication, and we needed more money.
I recently started studying again to finish high school. I dropped out a couple years ago because work and school had become too much. They were long days. I would get up at 7:30, work until school started at 1, and then get back at 6:30. I then ate, did my homework, and went to sleep. Every day was like that. My mom told me to leave my job rather than school but that’s not what I wanted back then.
Choosing work over school is something I regret and don’t regret at the same time. I started working because I wanted to buy my own stuff: jewellery, nice clothes, things like that. Then we needed money because my mom was sick. It was ugly back then. We had nothing: sometimes we didn’t have anything to eat. If I had stayed in school I would have already graduated by now. But because I worked we are at least all doing well. I’m 18, and my work helps me cover my needs and those of my family.
I went back to school because I’ve decided to become a cop. For that I have to finish high school. I have many cousins in the police force, and they told me that if I studied they would help me find a job. I like the idea of being involved with the government. They’re very respected, so I’m going to work towards it. My mom wanted me to make something of myself. ‘I’m leaving you,’ she said. ‘Keep going forward.’
This story is part of a series of testimonies from children and mothers living in Ciudad Juárez, on the US-Mexico border. The children were all caught crossing into the US, either to pursue personal aspirations or to smuggle people, and are now receiving restorative justice services from the NGO Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción. The testimonies were prepared alongside DHIA's advocates and have been edited for clarity. The illustration of the speaker is a fictitious rendering produced by Carys Boughton (All rights reserved). The speaker's name has also been changed.