When Miguel Angel Guity Mejia was 16, he packed his Bible, a pair of shoes and some clothes in a knapsack. In the dead of night, he left home without saying goodbye to his family. They had no idea he was fleeing Corozal, the coastal village in Honduras where he grew up.
He stayed in a hotel with three friends for about a week, until the border with Guatemala was clear of immigration authorities. Then they set out for the United States, eager to escape the reach of gang members who were hanging around soccer fields and basketball courts, trying to recruit youngsters like him.
“I was getting scared,” he recalled this month, four years after his journey began.
For more than two weeks, he and his friends walked, hitchhiked, took buses and hid between train cars. When they arrived at the border between the United States and Mexico, they had to swim across a river. “That was the moment that changed my life forever,” Mr. Mejia said.
Once they reached the middle of the river, the current was so strong and the water so deep that one of Mr. Mejia’s friends started drowning. Mr. Mejia tried pulling him up by his shirt, but to no avail. He also started drowning. “God, please,” he recalled thinking. “Please save me.” Suddenly, they reached a riffle and managed to cross to the other side.
The ordeal lasted minutes, Mr. Mejia said, but it felt like a lifetime.
They eventually approached Border Patrol agents, and Mr. Mejia was placed in a shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in Texas for about four months until he moved to New York to stay with his father and stepmother.
Before then, Mr. Mejia had almost no relationship with his father, who had left the family for the United States when Mr. Mejia was an infant and eventually settled in the Bronx. About seven years ago, Mr. Mejia’s father called him unexpectedly, and Mr. Mejia memorized the phone number. When he arrived in Mexico, he reached out to his father for help.
In the Bronx, Mr. Mejia, now 20, enrolled in high school and joined the school’s soccer team (he is a die-hard Real Madrid fan) in his junior year. While he was grateful to have left Honduras, which has one of the world’s highest murder rates and where more than half the population lives in poverty, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, the adjustment was challenging. His father went from being a stranger to his caregiver, and Mr. Mejia was homesick.
In the summer of 2016, he was so down that he considered returning to Honduras. Then he joined another soccer team, at a church in East Harlem, and started attending services there. It was a transformative experience, he said, and it gave him a sense of inner peace. The resentment he had felt toward his father for leaving him when he was a baby eased, and he began to appreciate how hard his father had worked to provide for his family.
As he became more comfortable in the United States, Mr. Mejia applied for an immigration designation that would make him eligible to seek a green card. He had help from Terra Firma, a project of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Terra Firma offers medical and legal services to unaccompanied immigrant children. Mr. Mejia’s application is still pending.
Mr. Mejia has since graduated from high school. Because of his immigration status, he is not eligible for many financial aid opportunities to attend college. After receiving a $1,000 scholarship through his high school, he enrolled at Bronx Community College in August with plans to major in media studies. The $600 that he had saved from a summer job at a carpet factory in Brooklyn ran out quickly, though, and last month, Mr. Mejia dropped out.
Money was tight in his Bronx household — he lived with his father, stepmother, three siblings, a cousin and a stepsister in a three-bedroom apartment — so Catholic Charities stepped in several weeks ago and gave Mr. Mejia $400 from The Neediest Cases Fund for clothing as winter approached. He purchased a coat and workout clothes from Old Navy and Modell’s.
This week, Mr. Mejia moved to Boston to work with an uncle as a carpenter. He is still hoping he will be able to get a his green card, giving him the opportunity to continue his education. His dream is to become a sports journalist. One day, he hopes to work for Univision or Telemundo.
Growing up in Honduras, Mr. Mejia was raised primarily by his grandparents, and he hopes to one day support them as much as they cared for him.
“They are my motivation,” he said.
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