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In the Bronx, football as an escape from the threat of expulsion

Ⓒ AFP – DON EMMERT – | Players from “L’Union”, an amateur football league made
up of undocumented minors from Mexico and Central America, July
22, 2017 New York

An unusual football league meets every Saturday in the
underprivileged neighborhood of the Bronx in New York. It
brings together some fifty children who have fled without their
parents Central America, its violence and its poverty.

Young members of the “Union” league, who find in the ball a
salutary loophole to a precarious situation and a past marked
by tears, risk expulsion.

As therapeutic as the weekly soccer match of these teenagers
is, they are nevertheless clandestine immigrants in the eyes of
the American administration.

“When you play soccer, you are not thinking about your
immigration file or the people who want to harm you in your
country or a judge could expel you,” said Elvis Garcia
Callejas, Wearing the double cap of coach and lawyer.

“You run after the ball, your main goal is to win, to play
as a team and to have a good time,” he adds.

This Paris Saint-Germain and 27-year-old Barcelona fan
founded the league in 2014, when a record 70,000 miners had
crossed the Rio Grande without their parents. United States and

Ⓒ AFP – DON EMMERT – | Teofilo Chavez (g), 17, fills out documents with the
help of Elvis Garcia Callejas, coach of an amateur football group
and lawyer for Catholic Charities, July 22, 2017 in New York,

Elvis Garcia Callejas himself was only 15 when he duped
American customs officers to land in El Paso, Texas.

Now a lawyer for Catholic Charities, he foams detention
centers in search of miners from Central America who may need

– Children again … –

By 2014, he had only three toddlers from Honduras, who had
to score between two rubbish bins.

The “Union League”, which now comprises 50 teenagers, is now
supported by the local club South Bronx United.

“The children we work with must grow very quickly,” says
coach Callejas. “But on the soccer field, it can be kids

Since 2014, more than 200,000 teenagers and children have
arrived from Mexico and Central America without their parents
in the United States, according to official data.

One of them, Teofilo Chavez, is dreaming today as a
professional footballer, three years after leaving Honduras at
the age of 14, to come and live with his aunt in the Bronx.

Ⓒ AFP – DON EMMERT – | Teofilo Chavez (d), 17, in an amateur football match
with undocumented minors, on July 22, 2017 at Macombs Dam Park in
the Bronx, New York

It must be said that this youngest of five siblings did not
have a thousand options after the death of his grandmother, who
raised her since the death of his mother.

With a brother, he then rallied the Rio Grande clinging to
the roof of a freight train christened “The Beast”, due to the
number of migrants who leave their lives there.

Once in front of the river, “I swam with a bag of clothes
tied to my wrist,” he recalls.

“These are the first friends I have made in this country, an
eternal friendship,” promises Teofilo Chavez, speaking of his

With the help of his lawyer Jodi Ziesemer, he is about to
get his permanent resident green card.

– … in search of the future –

But some 60% of the minors in his case must appear before
the judge without a council – the government does not provide
for a lawyer assigned to it – a “ridiculous” situation
denounces Mr. Ziesemer, who defends about 700 similar

“These children are fleeing horrific situations, fleeing
death threats,” she says, stressing that the context has
deteriorated since Donald Trump came to power, promising to
expel millions of homeless people, papers.

Under the previous administrations,
she said, the prosecution was “much more cooperative” in terms
of children “very young, in therapy or with medical

Teofilo Chavez ends his high school in the Bronx but can not
forget Honduras. And when he thinks about the things he misses
the most, he closes his eyes: “The sunlight, the beach, the
coconuts, my friends, my grandmother, my father, the
plantations near my house” .

The youngest player in the league is the shy Yefri, 15, who
arrived three months earlier from Guatemala with his
11-year-old brother. He did not want to give his surname for
fear that his immigration file would suffer.

“I came in search of a future, because in my country there
are none,” swears the teenager whose scars recall the gang who
wanted to recruit him.

When he arrived in the United States, he found his mother,
whom he had not seen for nine years and who is now his first
fan at the edge of the field.

“These kids have all had a similar experience, they
understand each other and help each other,” she says. “It’s
really a union, it’s a fantastic thing.”

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