- Associated Press - Monday, August 4, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - They have never visited the Texas border to see the children who are arriving in waves from Central American countries.

Yet the two young men from Africa say they understand what is going on, and they even see themselves among the desperate faces.

“I was running away from danger when I was 5 years old,” recalled Gabe Anieu Maguil, now 32 and living in Dallas. “I was completely naked, no shoes, and I ran from my country to save my life.”

He and his friend Augustino Gend, 31, told The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1rZWVym) that they are puzzled that Americans have not extended the same warm welcome to these latest arrivals as they did a decade ago to them - the Lost Boys of Sudan.

“I cannot see the difference. These are children who need help. We were children who needed help, and the United States embraced us,” Maguil said during a recent conversation in the northeast Dallas apartment the men share with a third former Lost Boy.

“It’s not logical for these children to be sent back to their original place,” Gend said of a proposal to speed their deportation, sending the children homeward within days of their arrival.

“I feel like the government of the United States needs to understand that children are innocent.”

Both men were part of a massive migration of over 20,000 children, mostly boys, who fled the civil war in southern Sudan beginning in the late 1980s.

They walked or ran more than 1,000 miles en masse to safety in Ethiopia and later to Kenya. More than half of them died from violence, starvation, disease or attacks by wild animals.

Maguil and Gend spent most of their childhood in massive refugee camps - and they consider themselves lucky. They were fed and educated by the United Nations until a resettlement effort placed about 4,000 of them in U.S. cities, including 130 in Dallas.

By the time they made it here in 2001, Maguil and Gend spoke fairly fluent English, learned in camp. But they were unprepared for American life. It wasn’t just unfamiliar customs and food that confused them, but modern amenities such as refrigerators and stoves.

The pair has fond memories of the people who volunteered to acclimate them.

“When we first came here, a lot of Americans were cleaning our house, bringing us food, taking us to the lakes. Everybody was so nice,” Maguil said. “Even now, they are real, real nice.”

Over the years, both men have worked steady jobs, Maguil at Central Market, where he has held a variety of positions, and Gend at Dallas Medical Center, where he sterilizes surgical equipment.

They earn enough to support a modest communal life here while sending money to their families back home.

Maguil sends $100 monthly to his mother, who lives in their old Sudanese village, and $300 to his brother, who is attending college. The strain on his paycheck makes it impossible to attend college himself, he says.

“One friend told me I don’t have to help them,” he said. “Where I come from, my whole family depends on me.”

Gend contributes $400 a month so his wife and two children can have a decent life in a Kenyan refugee camp. He visited them recently and remains hopeful of bringing them to Dallas next year. He has 19 other family members living in African refugee camps, hoping to get to Australia, an easier destination than the U.S.

“My brother and sister-in-law want a better life and an education for my cousins and nieces and nephews,” he said. The children are between 7 and 15 years old.

Gend’s willingness to help family members through the immigration process would appear to conflict with his support for immigrant children, who are ignoring laws protecting the U.S. border. Gend said he sees the issue both ways.

“It’s not right to come to a country illegally. That’s why there is a border,” he said. “The government has a right to say ‘no’ or ‘yes.’”

The situation is different when a child crosses the border alone, without an adult, Gend said. In his view, any government turning a minor immigrant away is still responsible for that child’s safety.

“The U.S. government can send the children to a refugee camp set up by the United Nations or the International Rescue Committee, the people who helped us come here,” Gend said. He also recommended locating such camps in the countries from which the children are fleeing.

“Give them a camp and educate them there,” he said. “Give them food and keep them safe.”

Maguil disagreed.

“I heard and read that some kids are running from abuse. They’re getting raped or forced to be prostitutes, and they’re 10 years old,” he said. “That’s not a place for kids to live.”

Maguil suggested taking a longer view of the current border crisis. These are children so eager to come to America, he said, that they will travel hundreds of arduous miles, across countries and borders.

They are no different, he said, than he was years ago.

“If they’re here, they can better themselves,” Maguil said. “And someday, they will pay taxes. They will be Americans.”


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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