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A 6-year-old Honduran migrant goes to Washington

ALLSTON, Mass. — On a recent morning, 6-year-old Darling Guevara, a boy from Honduras, hopped on a toy truck parked in a front yard in this lower-middle-class neighborhood. He steered the wheel and waved farewell.

“Goodbye,” he said to his mother and two visitors as he set off on an imaginary trip. “I’m leaving.”

From the porch, his mom, Margarita Cartagena, flashed a sad smile and waved back at him.

What she really wants for Darling, and for herself, is to stay.

“Until we reduce the demand for drugs, we’re going to see more Darlings crossing the border.” — Joe Kennedy II

The mother and son came to Allston eight months ago escaping Honduras’ violence, she says, after criminals attempted to extort money from her and threatened to kill Darling if she didn’t pay.

“I just wanted to save my son,” says Cartagena, 38, who made a living from selling corn, sugar and soap in El Sitio, a village in the Honduran highlands.

She said she mortgaged her home to pay $8,000 to a smuggler who took her and Darling on a 22-day journey across three countries and through many dangers to join relatives in Boston. They traveled aboard pick-up trucks and buses on treacherous roads to elude border authorities and criminal gangs.

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From the Mexican border city of Reynosa, they leaped onto a raft and made the illegal crossing through the Rio Grande. Almost immediately they were detained by the border patrol and sent to McAllen Detention Center, Texas. They were let go with a notice to appear in court.

Darling and his mother are part of the massive influx of Central Americans who triggered a humanitarian crisis this summer when thousands crossed the Mexican border escaping drug and gang violence in their home countries. Many were children traveling with their parents. Many others were unaccompanied.

The crisis remains a thorn in the side of both the White House and Congress, with the American public divided over how to cope with the surge that’s strained local resources in towns and cities across the country.

The president said last month that he’d delay expected immigration reform until after the November midterm elections, to the chagrin of immigrants and their advocates.

Meanwhile, the flow of unaccompanied minors across the border actually has slowed down.

US immigration officials say the numbers declined from 10,000 in June to just over 3,000 in August. To help stem future surges, Attorney General Eric Holder met in Mexico last Tuesday with his counterparts from the countries officials say most of the minors are coming from — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — and agreed to create a multinational task force.

Now thousands of the kids already here have started school.

Immigrant advocacy groups estimate more than 1,000 of the new Central American children call Massachusetts home, many of them on the outskirts of Boston in cities like Chelsea and Lynn.

Nearly a third of Americans support their immediate deportation, according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey in mid-August. For 38 percent, the children should be allowed to stay temporarily until it’s safe for them to return home. Another 13 percent favor their staying indefinitely.

But the summer migration surge may have worn on some citizens. Last month a WSJ/NBC poll found the share of Americans who support immigration reform dropped to 53 percent, from 64 percent in April.

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In Massachusetts, immigrant advocates have criticized Obama’s delay but are bracing to carry on. Centro Presente, an East Boston group that helps newly arrived immigrants, has embarked on a campaign to build support among state and local officials to stop deportation proceedings for the migrant children.

“We’re asking the president and the Congress not to deport them,” said Cesar Boc, immigrant rights organizer at the center. “If they’re sent back to their countries, they’d be facing death.”

A 2013 United Nations report said Honduras had the world’s highest murder rate with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people. By comparison, in the last five years the US has registered an average of 4.9 homicides per 100,000.

Supporters are campaigning for some sort of legal relief that allows migrant children to stay here. In a meeting arranged by Centro Presente advocates, Darling and his mom met congressman Joe Kennedy III in late August in his Newton office. Kennedy spoke with them in Spanish and was touched by their plight.

Kennedy also traveled with a congressional delegation to Central America over Labor Day to see the conditions behind the migration wave. Solving poverty and violence in the region will be a daunting task, he said, because it means reducing the demand for drugs in the United States and helping create more economic opportunities in Central American countries.

“The threat of violence is so great, the lack of opportunities so severe,” said Kennedy in a phone interview. The 33-year-old is the grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. “Much of the violence is caused by the drug trade, and until we reduce the demand for drugs, we’re going to see more Darlings crossing the border.”

Cartagena hopes her son won’t follow in the steps of other Honduran children who have been deported in recent weeks in fast-track procedures.

Homeland Security officials said more than 62,000 minors were detained at the U.S.-Mexican border between October and July, twice as many as last year. The majority hailed from Honduras.

Many were escaping poverty and violence, but according to immigration officials, there was another key factor behind the rush: People smugglers were spreading false word that children could stay in the U.S. upon arrival.

Darling arrived with his mom in Boston on Dec. 12, 2013, and was ordered deported in absentia last April. Cartagena said that the notice to appear in court must have been sent to her previous address in the nearby neighborhood of Brighton.

Immigrant advocates helped Cartagena find Sara K. Ward, a pro bono attorney for Darling.

A judge has now granted a motion to reopen the removal case and ordered Darling to appear in court in March 2015.

“The main takeaway from all this is that these children need legal representation to navigate the system,” Ward said.

Darling began kindergarten this month. He seems to have adapted to his new home, and is popular with the other kids. He speaks a few words of English, likes meeting new people and wants a tablet to play games.

But his mom worries about the future.

Both Darling and his mom planned to travel to Washington, D.C., last month, along with immigration campaigners, to meet with legislators and tell them why Hondurans came to this country over the summer.

Memories of violence are still fresh in Cartagena’s mind. Two years ago, armed robbers attacked her, took her money and threatened to kill her if she didn’t run away. She tried to come to Boston last August but was deported from the border. A few days after she returned to Honduras, she says, she found a note left by criminal gangs threatening to kill Darling if she didn’t pay a “war tax.”

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Cartagena, who has found solace in an evangelical church in Waltham, a city east of Boston, hopes they are allowed to stay.

“I had a dream the other night that I was carrying a suitcase and I was back in Honduras,” she said. “It was terrifying. I don’t want to go back.”

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Liz Mineo/GlobalPost

Meet Darling Guevara, a 6-year-old Honduran who started kindergarten in the Boston area this month.