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Iowan Shines Light on Flood of Central American Children

PHOTO: As the flood of children attempting to cross into the United States from Central America continues, an Iowa woman offers her story in the hopes of increasing understanding about the situation. Photo courtesy of Toksave / Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: As the flood of children attempting to cross into the United States from Central America continues, an Iowa woman offers her story in the hopes of increasing understanding about the situation. Photo courtesy of Toksave / Wikimedia Commons.
July 15, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa - The mass migration of Central American children has made headlines, sparked debate, and ignited a political firestorm in recent weeks, but one Iowa woman hopes her experience can shed some light upon why this is happening, and what can be done to help.

Kenia Calderon made the journey from El Salvador to the United States nine years ago, when she was just 11. She says her native country was on a downward spiral of economic despair, crime, and gang violence, and the problems have only gotten worse.

"The violence was horrible, you just didn't feel safe," she says. "Gang members would kidnap girls and force them into their gangs and make them sex slaves."

Calderon received a work permit under an Obama administration program created in 2012 called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and currently works as an administrative assistant for the American Friends Service Committee while attending Drake University.

She says she doesn't know if the Deferred Action program or something similar is the right answer for the current flood of immigrants, but she says it's time to look for solutions rather than playing the "blame game."

"For once we need to stop worrying about the whole political aspect and just think about what these human beings are going through," says Calderon. "We need to think about what is making them come here."

Calderon hopes her success story will give hope to other immigrant children, and put a face on the current situation for many Iowans who might not have connections to that part of the world.

"Everything I went through in El Salvador and while I was making the journey to this country helped me mature," says Calderon. "I appreciate being given a work permit. It's changed my life for the better, and it's opened up so many doors for me."

The American Friends Service Committee in Iowa helps immigrants organize for their rights and provides immigration legal services, including workshops for youth seeking to renew their Deferred Action status.

This story was made possible in part by the Voqal Fund.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - IA