By Emily Barnes
ASSISTANT FEATURES EDITOR
Children chase after life, even if that chase might end up killing them,” Valeria Luiselli writes in her book “Tell Me How It Ends.”
Written in reaction to her time spent as a translator in New York City’s federal immigration court, Luiselli – an award-winning Mexican author, professor and faculty advisor for the Teenage Immigrant Integration Association (TIIA) – offers readers detailed accounts of the atrocities child migrants face as they attempt to get a glimpse of the American dream.
“Dreamers’ situations are paradoxically more fragile than the population that TIIAs usually work with – which is a population fundamentally composed of very recently arrived undocumented minors that are mostly ineligible for forms of immigration relief, similar to political asylum,” Luiselli said.
Upon its establishment in spring of 2016, TIIA has worked to assuage the stigma surrounding children of migration who enter the United States as refugees to escape situations Luiselli characterizes as involving “brutal systematic violence” in their home countries.
“What a lot of lawyers fear is that the next kids in line to be targeted by Trump, in a similar way that he damaged the DACA, are the kids [on asylum],” Luiselli said.
In her book, Luiselli transcribes the horrific dangers Central American children face as they attempt to cross into the U.S. via “La Bestia,” a freight train spanning from Guatemala up through Mexico and finally to the U.S. border.
“Some of the stories that we hear will rip your heart out of your chest,” said junior Brandon Jurewicz, president of TIIA. “The struggles that these kids have to go through, some of them very much younger than us.”
Jurewicz went on to recall a story one particular TIIA student shared with him about their own experience riding “La Bestia.” “On this train there is rape, violence, murder, theft,” he said. “It’s extremely scary for an adult, let alone a 15-year-old child.”
Jurewicz explained that the idea for the program came about while taking an advanced Spanish conversation course with Luiselli – in which immigration exclusively on Long Island was a recurring focus amongst students who quickly became intrigued by Luiselli’s book and her unwavering advocacy.
“We were energized to make a difference within our Hofstra community as well as the community beyond,” Jurewicz said.
After analyzing the resources available to young immigrants on Long Island, TIIA began its work with organizations around Uniondale, to include S.T.R.O.N.G., where youth are the central concentration.
“[Adolescents] are the people that don’t necessarily receive as much resources as they should, and are kind of left on the back burner a lot of times unfortunately,” Jurewicz said.
Trey Jackson, a senior biology major and TIIA mentor, expressed that formulating mentor-mentee relationships with the students in the program is an unequivocal necessity, particularly after the uneasiness of the 2016 presidential election cycle.
“[The students] are afraid of admitting they’re immigrants and possibly [undocumented],” Jackson said. “The only way they’ll feel comfortable to come [to our program] is if you show them you only want the best for them.”
Rotating between game nights and soccer games in addition to the one-on-one sessions intended to form bonds with students and hear the stories of the ones willing to disclose, TIIA, a play on the word “tía” meaning “aunt” in Spanish, acts as a support system for its members.
Luiselli, Jurewicz and Jackson anticipate the TIIA program to garner more interest as more people become aware of the existence of similar programs centralized on the inequities of basic human rights.
“We’re here; we’re ready to work,” Jurewicz said when asked what he wants people to know most about TIIA. “We just want to make a name for ourselves [on campus] so we can provide more.”
Students interested in joining the TIIA program can sign up using GetInvolvedHU.