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Houston Has Been No. 1 Destination For Many Migrant Teens

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Thousands of migrant children and teens have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in the last few weeks. Once these kids are processed, most are reconnected with family members across the U.S., and then they restart their lives in a new country with a new school and in a new language. In recent years, Houston, Texas, has been the No. 1 destination for these teens. Houston Public Media's Elizabeth Trovall reports.

ELIZABETH TROVALL, BYLINE: Wisdom High School teacher Garrett Reed in Houston breaks the ice with his five students with some gentle teasing.

GARRETT REED: Here comes the football player.

TROVALL: On a video call, they tell me their first names only since they have pending immigration cases. Here's Jaime, the football player.

JAIME: Hi. My name is Jaime. I am from Guatemala. I am 18 years old.

TROVALL: They're all from Central America, and they all traveled across Mexico into the U.S. without a parent, some just a few months ago. Jaime explains why he risked his life to come here.

JAIME: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: He says his dad, who left when Jaime was a baby, lives in Houston. Jaime came to the U.S. to be with him and to escape threats from gang members. All of them had some family already living in the U.S., like most of the thousands of kids waiting to be processed in Border Patrol facilities and migrant shelters in Texas and other parts of the country.

Seventeen-year-old Roselia says she left Guatemala because she was mistreated by the woman she lived with and worked for.

ROSELIA: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: The first time she tried to cross into southern Mexico, she says officials there deported her back to Guatemala. But she was successful the second time. During the long journey, she remembers riding a bus, hiding out, being scared and very hungry with no food or water.

ROSELIA: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: That was just a few months ago. When she crossed into the U.S. from Mexico, border officials found her, processed her. Then she was moved to a shelter and reunited with her older brother, who was already in Houston.

ROSELIA: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: She says life in the U.S. is different. Everything's in English, and she misses her mom in Guatemala.

High school brings a lot of opportunities and obstacles for these teens. Some never finished elementary school back home. It's a challenge for their teacher, Garrett Reed, who speaks to them both in Spanish and English. His students are mostly migrant teens like this group or refugees.

REED: I started off with maybe, you won't believe, eight kids in my class in August - eight or nine. And then it just grows throughout the semester.

TROVALL: Reed says by spring, his classes fill up to 30 kids, all at different learning levels.

REED: They haven't been there. They're very far behind in more ways than one.

TROVALL: Despite learning challenges, Reed says his students have lofty ambitions in the United States - going to college, becoming a lawyer or businessperson. Their dreams may be big, but their legal futures are uncertain. In the past, Central American minors were more likely to face deportation than be granted a special visa or asylum. Fifteen-year-old Franklin came here from Honduras. He hopes his father, who has papers, will help him out so he can pursue his American dream.

FRANKLIN: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: His dream is to study, give it his all and maybe one day become an engineer.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Trovall in Houston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.