Editor's note: This article was translated from Spanish by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington.
On Friday, June 11, David de la O disappeared. He was walking home from school in rural Santa Cruz Michapa, a small city in El Salvador about an hour’s drive from San Salvador, the nation’s capital. David’s family searched for him all night, without success. The next morning, his remains were found buried in an abandoned field outside town. He had been stabbed four times in the torso; his head, arms and legs had been severed. David was only 11 years old. In fourth grade, he had been learning long division and multiplication and practicing verb tenses. With no leads to go on, the police speculated that David was killed and dismembered by gang members because he refused to join their ranks. (He went to school in an area controlled by one gang and lived in a neighborhood dominated by another.)
David’s murder wasn’t widely reported in the country. It was yet another incident of violence—a terrible one, but one of many. The day before David was killed, two other teenagers, 15 and 16, had their throats slit and were dumped in another abandoned field on the outskirts of the capital.
To avoid becoming the victims of gang violence, tens of thousands of children like David have fled El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for the United States. As their numbers skyrocket, lawmakers in Washington have sought to “repatriate” these refugees as quickly as possible. The Obama administration initially sought to change the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to allow the 52,000 or so child migrants who have arrived on US soil in the last nine months to be deported without going before an immigration judge. (Under the TVPRA, unaccompanied minors from countries that do not share a border with the United States are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, then go before an immigration court that will determine their fate; those hailing from Mexico, on the other hand, can accept “voluntary deportation” and return immediately.) The White House has since backed off this proposal and has instead asked Congress for $3.7 billion to ramp up enforcement and hire more judges to expedite the removal process. Republicans in the House of Representatives—including the GOP’s standard-bearer on immigration issues, Ted Cruz—continue to press for the TVPRA to be changed.