by Mindy Riseden
It was summertime, 2014. The news and the sermons were powerful—children, minors at our border. Just a few hours’ drive from my comfortable home with a playroom full of toys and anything my young children could desire, there were children: exhausted, lost, alone, terrified. They were survivors. Survived their living conditions and environment in Central America, survived the long journey to Texas, and they continued surviving.
I never traveled to the detention facilities. I met G here in Houston at a non-profit agency in 2014. Logically, I was not sure what I was doing. My 2-year-old and my 5-year-old, no doubt, needed any extra time I had, as I was working diligently on my already full caseload. But the sermons—the sermons at St. Paul's moved me and reminded me of these children (sermons like July 13, 2014and July 20, 2014). No matter what one’s political views might be, these are children—children needing help.
So I met G, so young, barely a teenager, so thin. He came here with strangers. During his trek here, there was no one for him to lean on, no one to encourage him except strangers and other survivors. He witnessed horrible family violence. He witnessed horrible social violence in his hometown in Central America. As I met with G and began documenting his story in the form of court pleadings and applications to our government, we became friends. He and his mother showered me with gratitude and homemade dishes and small, invaluable gifts. In all my years of practicing law, I have never felt the way I did when I left the Harris County juvenile courtroom to tell G (who had to remain outside considering the painful testimony his mother provided), with complete and utter joy, that we met the first major hurdle and we were on our way to proper and legal documentation.
As the months passed, I only communicated with G and his mother as interview dates and application deadlines approached; our communications dwindled. The process slowed and came to a standstill. I did not reach out to G regularly. In 2015, I accepted another pro bono case, L, also from Central America; a young girl, also a survivor. Gratefully, L’s case has moved along very similarly to G’s. But L’s assimilation here appears to be a little different. Her support system casts a wider net. As I worked with L, I often thought about G, thought about checking in, thought about taking him out for a meal to see how high school was going. But I never did; I was busy.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016, late morning: I was asked to write about my pro bono experiences thus far so they could be shared with you. Honored, I could not wait to write about G. Again, I thought about calling him to see how the new school year was, but I was busy. Shortly after lunch the same day, G’s mom called me. We had not spoken in a few months. She cried to me on the phone. G was gone. Disappeared, ran away, kidnapped, who knows. It had been several days. She worked on her end with the police and her networks. I prayed. My family prayed.
We communicated several times a day, crying, praying. I felt regret. Yes, G was on his way to legal status, but what about his process of assimilation? How does one make it here if you do not speak the language, do not know the culture, and do not have adequate extended support? Where was G’s support system beyond his apartment? Where had I been?
Over Labor Day weekend, I thought about the request to write this piece and could not bring myself to begin. I stayed in contact with G’s mom and made calls. The weekend ended, but still no word from G.
I think best in the early morning. So I woke up about 4:30 am today, ready to see what I could write. Upon waking, I checked my phone and saw a text from G’s mom that had come in overnight. G has been found and appears to be OK. This timing—God's timing; miracles surround us.
I thank God for this second chance for both G, his mom, and myself. Yes, the legal road we’ve been climbing for his immigration status has been exciting and rewarding thus far, but our friendship has been more. I look forward to sharing a meal with him as soon as possible. I look forward to maintaining contact. I am appreciative of this renewed opportunity, but I am extremely grateful for St. Paul’s. I’ve reached out to our community and have received offers to help G in different ways—his net, his support system is being cast wider as we speak. Thank you.