DENVER – The large migration of Central American children into the U.S. has made headlines, sparked debate and ignited a political firestorm in recent weeks.
But one woman hopes her experience can shine some light on why this is happening and what can be done to help.
Kenia Calderon made the journey from El Salvador to the United States nine years ago, when she was just 11.
She says her native country was on a downward spiral of economic despair, crime and gang violence, which only has gotten worse.
“The violence was horrible,” she says. “You know, you just didn’t feel safe, and gang members would kidnap girls and force them into their gangs and make them be sex slaves.”
Calderon received a work permit under a 2012 program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
She now works as an administrative assistant for the American Friends Service Committee.
The Obama administration has asked some states, including Colorado, to host immigrant children.
But Gov. John Hickenlooper recently said Colorado residents don’t want to see another burden come to their state.
Calderon doesn’t know if the Deferred Action program or something similar is the right answer for the current flood of immigrants, but she says it’s time to look for solutions rather than playing the blame game.
“I feel like for once, we need to stop worrying about the whole political aspect of this and just think about what these human beings are going through, what is making them come here?” she says.
Calderon hopes her story will give hope to other immigrant children and help put a face on the current situation for many who don’t have connections to that part of the world.
“Everything that I went through in El Salvador and when I was making the journey to this country helped me mature a lot,” she said. “I appreciate being given a work permit. It has changed my life for the better, and it has opened up so many doors for me.”