Miriam Aguayo has never forgotten her journey across the U.S.-Mexico border as a child on her way to California with her family. Twenty years later, Aguayo stood roughly 15 miles from that border in November 2017 and was sworn in as an attorney for undocumented and unaccompanied immigrant children.
At the ProBar Children’s Project, Aguayo will work with thousands of unaccompanied children who are seeking asylum in the U.S. and scattered in 20 shelters across the Lower Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. Her office in Harlingen, Texas seems like a long way from her experience in 2007, when she traveled from Monterrey, Mexico, to a new life in the U.S.
But, it’s a return of sorts for the recently minted Texas Tech Law School graduate, as she helps children seeking safety across a border she has already crossed. People get mired in the U.S. immigration bureaucracy, especially unaccompanied youth.
“Always give back. Remember your roots. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. You move away, you lose perspective…It’s easy for the urgency of the issues you’re passionate about to fade over time,” Aguayo once said to describe her life lessons.
In 2013, Marguerite Casey Foundation honored her with a Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award. The Award is for young people who are standing up for equity and social justice and making a positive difference in their communities.
Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice talked with Aguayo, now 26, about her new role and journey to become a legal advocate for unaccompanied and undocumented children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Q: You’ve said, “Always remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.” Why are you doing this?
I think it’s an incredible opportunity, incredibly rewarding. I don’t really know any more underprivileged and more threatened vulnerable population other than unaccompanied alien minors, unaccompanied children.
To be able to help in one way, shape or form to help their lives turn around and their struggles. So they can go for their goals and ambition.
They have been [through] a lot at such a young age. It is very rewarding to know we can help them in some way.
Q: What are your plans for the next five years?
For a little bit, I didn’t want to have any more goals…I wanted to rest.
[Now] I think I want to become board certified…in immigration.
In the long run, I would like to go to D.C. and work in immigration.
Q: How will you retain an urgency for issues you are passionate about in the daily grind?
It’s a lot easier now because I am exposed to it every day.
It is difficult to listen to these children’s stories and not take them home with you.
It is a constant reminder that your work is worthwhile.
Either reunite [them] with their family member. If they are eligible, help them with a visa, a residency eventually…When we get to give that good news, it is kind of priceless.
Q: If you could dispel one misconception about immigration what would it be?
There is some sort of shortcut or just line that you can take to become a resident or a citizen. When, in fact, sometimes there is really no pathway. Oftentimes, there is no pathway. It is not a viable option.
Q: What did the Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award mean to you?
Sargent Shriver, I am obsessed with him. He would have been an awesome president.
This interview was edited for clarity and style. Photo provided by Mike Seifert. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America.
2018 © Equal Voice for America’s Families Newspaper
Published by Marguerite Casey Foundation
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News.