Abraham is two-and-a-half years old. A friendly, spunky, and observant toddler, he likes turtles, grapes, and looking at photos of his two older brothers on his mom’s phone, particularly the one of his 8-year-old brother playing soccer. So you wouldn’t guess, to see him playing and laughing with Sister Cecilia at the KBI comedor, that his short life already includes trauma and tragedy.
When he was a year old, Abraham was the sole witness to his father Antonio’s murder at the family’s home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. On August 7, 2017, local gang members burst in and killed him over a tattoo—the Virgin of Guadalupe—that they believed marked him as a member of a rival gang, though Antonio had no gang affiliations whatsoever. As is usual after gang murders, this marked Abraham, despite his tender age, as the gang’s next target. His mother Daniela, 23, received a written threat of his impending death. She still has the ominous note. (All names have been changed for security reasons.)
Daniela, pregnant with her fourth child, immediately fled her home with her three sons—Abraham, 5-year-old Miguel, and 8-year-old David—and went into hiding for some months, giving birth to Yoshua in November. Ultimately, she made the difficult decision to escape to the U.S. With Abraham’s life and the safety of the whole family in jeopardy, there was really no alternative.
Considering the thousands of miles ahead of them, Daniela chose to bring only Abraham and Yoshua, then 6 months old, with her, and send for the older boys later. The eldest, David, is now living with Daniela’s grandmother in a safe, suburban area, while Miguel resides with her mother near an urban center where his safety is less assured because of the proximity to gang activity. For this reason, her mother has destroyed all records of the family’s existence, and must pretend to the outside world that they are dead.
With Abraham strapped to her back and Yoshua secured to her chest, Daniela set out on their journey in May. Making their way through Guatemala and Mexico over the next two months, mother and sons traveled on northbound trains—called La Bestia, the Beast, by migrants because of the risk of injury, dismemberment, or death that can result from running alongside these massive moving machines and attempting to climb aboard and hold on. To avoid falling off, Daniela tied herself to the train.
Through inclement weather, sometimes going days without food or water, Daniela, Abraham, and Yoshua persevered, often relying on the good will of strangers. At one point, Daniela escaped an attempted assault when a bystander—a male migrant—intervened, allowing her to run. On another occasion, in order to hop on a particularly fast train, Daniela gave Abraham to a fellow migrant who offered to carry him. Daniela and Yoshua made the leap, but the man and Abraham were left behind. Daniela was devastated, thinking she would never see her son again, and one can only imagine how inconsolable Abraham was to see his mother and baby brother fading into the distance. Yet, miraculously, this committed stranger managed to meet up with Daniela and Yoshua three days late in Hermosillo, with Abraham safe and sound in his care.
When they finally made it to Nogales, they waited for two weeks to present themselves for asylum at the port of entry, staying at the KBI shelter for most of this time until their number was called. While in Customs and Border Protection custody for two days, they were housed in cages—“jails like the ones you see in pictures,” Daniela said—and all they carried with them was confiscated—a phone, clothing, even Abraham’s shoelaces.
After an interview and contact with their U.S.-based sponsor, the family was transported in two separate vehicles—Daniela in a van with other adults, and Abraham and Yoshua in one with multiple car seats—and reunited at a Tucson shelter that evening. Currently staying with family members in the U.S., they await their court date, which will determine the family’s ability to remain in the country, and Daniela and Abraham are working with a volunteer psychologist to heal from the profound wounds of their recent past, a period that covers more than half of Abraham’s life.
Now, the family hopes to turn the page, and look to a future free from threat and violence—one in which mother and sons can settle into a new life, joined by David and Miguel, and Daniela can find a steady job, perhaps in the field of medical forensics, her major at university. She recalls the hospital job she was forced to leave, identifying the bodies of the deceased and causes of death, too many due to gang violence. Though their dreams are within reach, uncertainty and homesickness remain, greatly eased by Abraham’s small, yet indomitable, spirit and the consolation of watching the two brothers happily play together. One day, this nightmare will be behind them; in the meantime, a mother’s determination, her children’s resilience, and the kindness of others have saved their lives.