September 7 2021
I got an email this past weekend asking for help in finding a boy who had been lost. His parents think that he died, but they aren’t sure of that. The fellow who reached out to me is a good man trying to do what he could to find somebody lost somewhere between the Rio Grande Valley and Houston.
The email request reminded me of the time that I lost a boy.
His name was Lorenzo. Six years after I lost him, he is still missing. Lorenzo slipped out of my reach because I was naïve, and distracted. The attorney I was working with at the time was overworked. And the US government was hell-bent on disappearing this seventeen-just-turned-eighteen year old boy to a city he had never known, a thousand miles from the tiny town he had grown up in and with no way to reach his mom or aunt to let them know that he was, at least at that moment, alive.
I worried about Lorenzo because in the short time that I had known him, I had found him naïve and vulnerable. He was of the Tarahumara people from the Mexican state of Chihuahua. He spoke very little Spanish and he had no experience of cities.
I did manage to find out that government agents had deported the boy to Matamoros, the city across from Brownsville, Texas, and a regional capitol of organized criminal activity. Lorenzo would have been a sitting duck for the people that work that angle of life along a border.
His story is long and complicated and hard. Cartel members had kidnapped him shortly after they had murdered his father. The gang had machine-gunned Lorenzo’s dad while stealing the families’ five head of cattle. The murderers then forced Lorenzo to carry a load of marijuana across the border into west Texas. The border patrol soon caught the boy, and, as he was seventeen at the time, they placed him into a government-sponsored shelter for children.
I had met Lorenzo while working as a volunteer. Over the course of several visits, I learned that Lorenzo was not interested in staying in the United States. All he wanted, he told me over and again, was to find his mother and let her know that he was safe and that he would head home as soon as he could.
This was not a simple thing to do, as his mother had fled her village after the violence inflicted on her family. She had no cell phone and he had no idea where she might have gone. Our little team helping Lorenzo had reached out to the Mexican welfare groups and to the Mexican consulate, pleading the case of this boy.
We were also trying to get Lorenzo a sponsor family, an urgent task as he had been fast approaching his 18th birthday, at which time he would be moved from the children’s shelter to the adult detention center, something which would complicate his situation, as he could be quickly deported, perhaps before he was able to get in touch with his family.
During one visit, I had set out trying to understand if he could apply for a type of immigration relief given to trafficking victims.
I had asked Lorenzo, “So when the men gave you the marijuana to carry, did you push back at all?”
The boy who had seen the bullet-ridden body of his father looked at me and said, “They had very large guns.”
That was our last conversation. A day or so later, Lorenzo turned eighteen. At the time, the staff at the shelter typically gave the kids a birthday cake.
“It is a very strange thing to celebrate eighteen year old birthdays in here,” one of the staff told me, “The boy is turning eighteen, we sit them at the table, we sing “Happy Birthday” and then, sometimes, our little fiesta is interrupted by the sound of the agents clanging their guns into the safe box at the front of the shelter. There is nothing like that sound. There is nothing like that sound on a kid’s birthday. It means that they are going to jail.”
I don’t know if Lorenzo had time to eat his slice of cake on his birthday, but I do know that at noon on that day, immigration enforcement agents went to the shelter and took him into custody.
While I had had a some promising leads on a group that thought that they may have found Lorenzo’s mom, I had gotten distracted with other things and didn’t reach out to him immediately, assuming that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would hold him for a few days. When I did call the prison, the phone operator told me that there was no such person in their custody.
Lorenzo was gone. He had been deported. The boy would have been walked across the International Bridge in Brownsville, probably with fifty or so other immigrants, penniless, friendless and lost. Perhaps someone took pity on him, and took him in; more than likely a gang grabbed him and put him back to work smuggling.
What breaks my heart is wondering how his mother must have felt—a recently murdered husband, a kidnapped son, and then, the horrifying silence of a disappeared loved one.
What shatters my heart is knowing that just a few days after he was deported, a Mexican welfare agency contacted us to let us know that they had found Lorenzo’s mom.
Soon after we had lost his son.