(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
BRADENTON – Every day, without fail, Christopher checks the mailbox outside his Bradenton home.
Since he was granted an asylum interview Feb. 4 in a federal court in Miami, the 12-year-old Honduran-born boy has been hoping to get that letter in the mail. Hoping for an update on his case — anything.
“When he gets home, he says, ‘Papi, the mail?’ ” said Christopher’s father, who has asked to be called Joel. “He goes to the mailbox and says, ‘No …'”
He checks every day, even though the lawyer who represented him in a hearing last month said the earliest they will probably receive a decision in the case will be late summer. Immigration attorney Thomas Goldman, of Goldman & Loughlin, PLLC, said a decision in Christopher’s case could take as long as nine months.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice received 36,674 applications for asylum. Of that number, 9,933 were granted.
That same year, the department received 2,354 applications for asylum from Honduras. Only 92 were granted.
Christopher’s mother, who has asked to be called Nina for the ‘Finding Freedom in Bradenton’ series, has been mostly calm during the wait, according to his father. But the anticipation has been hard on them.
“It’s not easy. There isn’t a day when I don’t look at the mail for a letter to say, ‘This is approved’ or ‘This is not approved,'” Joel said. “It’s very stressful because you feel like you wait and you never hear back.”
Joel has told his son to stay calm — this process is something he has to go through.
“The important thing is that he finally had his interview,” Joel said. “It’s a step forward.”
Christopher’s father left the family’s small pueblo of San Juancito for the U.S. before Christopher was born. His mother followed when he was just 1 1/2. Both were in search of the “American Dream,” with its promises of upward social mobility through hard work.
A decade passed and his parents still had not sent for him. At 9, Christopher began being tormented by a gang of older boys who associated themselves with Mara Salvatrucha — aka MS-13 — a widespread criminal gang with roots in Los Angeles and influences in Central America, Mexico and even Canada.
To escape the abuse, he set off for the United States with a close family friend he called Tia — “Aunt” in Spanish. His journey ended in Bradenton, where he reunited with his parents.
After Christopher and his father missed their first appointment before immigration officials in September 2014, they were granted a second one five months later in Miami.
Joel recalled how nervous his eldest son was at the appointment.
“He was very worried,” Joel said.
Watching his son has hurt Joel.
“He asked me, ‘The people, what will they say?’ I told him, ‘I don’t know,'” Joel said. “He’s young.”