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16-year-old Honduran asylum seeker hopes for safety in US: gangs ‘killed two of my friends’

TIJUANA, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 17: Children wait for their parents to turn in asylum requests at the U.S.-Mexico border on November 17, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. Parts of the caravan continue to arrive to Tijuana at the U.S. border, after traveling more than a month through Central America and Mexico. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Among the asylum seekers profiled by photographer Brett Gundlock in Mexico City last month as they journeyed from Central America to the north was Mainor Isaac Meléndez Suazo, a teenager nicknamed “El Diablo” for his bright red sweatsuits. Meléndez, just 16 years old, fled Honduras when he was threatened by gangs.

“Growing old is a privilege, not a right,” National Geographic reported about children and teens in Honduras, where many are forced into gangs. Meléndez told Mother Jones that some of them “would hang out in front of his school, pressuring the kids to join.“ Refusing is not an option. “They killed two of my friends,” he said. “They killed two. They cut off their heads. Everyone knew who they were and the police did nothing.”

He left when “the gangs sent threats through Facebook, photos of guns and notes saying he would soon meet their knife.” It’s unclear whether his family left with him, or if he’s by himself. “I did not say anything to my family when I left,” said Eduardo, a 14 year old who did leave Honduras by himself. “I just left with my luggage. I did not say anything to my mom because she was not going to let me come.”

Some of the people photographed by Gundlock may have already reached the U.S./Mexico border, where Trump administration officials have continued to violate the rights of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, by not allowing them to present themselves at the border. In one such instance, Congress member Pramila Jayapal was able to intervene, but only because she had been present at the border to visit asylum seekers.

“Really that’s all people are asking for, is the ability to be able to come in and start the asylum process, completely legal to do so, and actually something that we are required by international and by our own laws to do, is to allow people to come in and seek asylum,” she later said. 

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