De Novo Comes to Texas
Jeffrey Solomon's play brings the violence of Central America to life
"I don't want to go back over there, because if I go back they're going to kill me," says Edgar, the lead character in De Novo, a documentary play that's based the true story of Edgar Chocoy, 16, who was killed two weeks after being deported from the U.S. to Guatemala in 2004.
From the Houses on the Moon Theater Company, De Novo was written by Jeffrey Solomon, a New York-based writer and performer. It's crafted from immigration court transcripts, letters, and interviews conducted during immigration proceedings, and has been presented in many cities around the U.S. and El Salvador; and used as an educational tool at several law schools, including Columbia, NYU, and the University of Colorado. The play gets its first Texas staging this month at Texas State University and UT-Austin. The production incorporates images by Donna DeCesare, award-winning photojournalist, UT professor, and author of Unsettled/Desasosiego, whose work covers gangs in Central America and Los Angeles.
The play showcases Edgar's journey in leaving Guatemala to escape gang violence and reunite with his mother in the U.S., who left home when he was six months old. Like many Central American children, Edgar was targeted by a gang – MS-13, the largest gang in Central America. Any male child reaching adolescence immediately becomes a threat; if he's not recruited by one gang, then he'll be recruited by that gang's rival. Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the Refugee & Immigrant Center for Education & Legal Services (RAICES), explains that the control gangs have over certain neighborhoods in Mexico and Central America leads many children to quit school, relocate, and live with a distant family member – or start their journey to the U.S.
Detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Edgar said he would be killed if he went home, as MS-13 had put a hit on him. A pro bono immigration lawyer helped Edgar win an asylum case in front of a federal judge, but the judge was not convinced. Edgar was deported to Guatemala, and murdered 17 days later.
Eleven years have passed since Edgar's murder. Yet his story remains relevant. Amy Thompson, a policy analyst and advocate who is currently a graduate research assistant at UT's School of Social Work, has worked on the issue of unaccompanied minors for the last 17 years. She attests that "there are many Edgars." In fact, this year, Gredys Hernandez, a 14-year-old Honduran boy, was murdered three days after being deported from Mexico; the North American Congress on Latin America reported that two hooded men broke down the door of his mother's house and shot him multiple times.
The number of unaccompanied children that come to the U.S. through Mexico from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) has been on the rise. Between 2009 and 2011, an average of 3,900 children arrived in the U.S. In 2011, a consistent increase in child migration from Central America began. In spring 2014, child migration reached its highest point, which was described by President Obama as a "humanitarian crisis," with U.S. border patrol stations, immigration courts, and shelters filled with Central American children. A report by the Migration Policy Institute found that the U.S. apprehended 52,000 Central American children last year at the Mexican border.
This year, thanks to a deal between the U.S. and Mexico, the numbers were much lower. The Southern Border Plan (Programa Frontera Sur) was announced on July 7, 2014; it requires Mexico to toughen its enforcement to apprehend more Central American children before they get to the U.S. The MPI report reveals that under this plan, Mexico has received funds from the U.S. to implement aggressive enforcement strategy, including increased border surveillance, internal checkpoints, and immigrations raids.
For the U.S., the Southern Border Plan apparently succeeded. Border Patrol's apprehensions of unaccompanied children at the southwest border significantly decreased from 10,631 in June 2014 to 2,432 in September 2014. Between October 2014 and February 2015, apprehensions of unaccompanied migrant children dropped 42% compared to the same time period last year, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, a nonprofit focusing on human rights in Latin America. It's less clear whether the Southern Border Plan worked to the advantage of Mexican and Central American children.
De Novo has two stagings next week: Wed., Oct. 14, 7:30pm at Texas State's Evans Aud., 601 University Dr., San Marcos. Tickets are free for Texas State students, $10-15 for non-students, at www.txstatepresents.com.