Three Central American children who crossed the United States border unaccompanied testified before the Congressional Progressive Caucus last week, bringing lawmakers, press and a standing-room-only audience to tears. The kids journeyed from Long Island, New York, to Washington, D.C., for the first time with their attorney. Two of the three also brought along family members. None of the three who testified–Dulce Medina, Mayeli Hernández and Saúl Martínez–had met before, but they got to know each other over the course of the two-day trip. Here’s a glimpse of their journey.
Saúl Martínez sees the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for the first time. The 15-year-old crossed from El Salvador in April and has spent more time in detention than in school, which he hasn’t started yet.
Saúl Martínez, Dulce Medina, 15, Yeimi Medina, 10, and Lorena Hernández, 9, share a meal on a break during their trip to Washington, D.C.
On the night before the Congressional hearing, after checking into the hotel, Dulce, Lorena, Yeimi and Mayeli gather in a circle with Lorena and Mayeli’s mom, María.
Dulce takes a portrait of Mayeli, Lorena , Yeimi and Edgar Marroquin, Yeimi and Dulce’s stepfather.
Lorena and Yeimi smile at the camera while Mayeli reviews her testimony on the taxi ride over to Congress.
Lorena sits on the steps of the Rayburn House Office Building. She was only 8 years old when she and her sister, Mayeli, left Honduras and crossed the U.S. border last year.
Attorney Bryan Johnson, who drove his clients from Long Island to D.C. and arranged their meals and lodging, reviews testimony with Mayeli and Saúl while Edgar watches.
Yeimi and Lorena lead the way in the Rayburn House Office Building; Dulce and María follow.
Bryan comforts 12-year-old Mayeli while she testifies through an interpreter. Mayeli and her sister spent four days in immigration holding cells, where they felt like they were freezing.
Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Mich.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) listen to testimony about overcrowded, cold holding facilities for children that didn’t have as much as a private bathroom.
Yeimi is comforted by her stepfather. Nearly everyone who attended the hearing was moved to tears by the testimony they heard. Although she crossed the border herself as a 5-year-old, Yeimi was moved to hear her sister and new friends speak.
Saúl is hounded by the press following his testimony. He later shared that although it was difficult to testify and then be surrounded by reporters, it was worth it because Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) welcomed them to the United States. “I got to the U.S. a few months ago, but no one ever said that to me before,” he explained.
After the hearing, the children take a quick break to share a meal, do crosswords and color before returning to Long Island. Yeim’s “Have a Heart” badge was issued as a call for compassion for refugee children. All of the children who visited Washington on this trip, however, have attained Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which is different than refugee status.