NEW YORK — The young immigrants held in prison-like conditions at a juvenile detention
For a handful of immigrants who came to the U.S. from Central America — many as unaccompanied minors — poetry has given them a chance to tell the world both about their journeys north — and through the byzantine immigration system.
"A lot happens in life, most of it sad, an occasional happiness, and sometimes you have no choice but to play the clown and laugh on the outside, even though inside we feel less than failures," wrote one of them in a poem titled "The Future."
The collection of poems in "Dreaming America," published last year, was assembled by a Washington and Lee University professor and students who visited the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton, Virginia, lockup and helped the young immigrants put pencil to paper, giving voice to a largely unheard population at the
The Associated Press reported Thursday that immigrants as young as 14 at the
Republicans and Democrats in Washington said the allegations described by the AP were alarming, and Virginia's governor on Thursday ordered state officials to investigate the abuse claims.
The writings in "Dreaming America" offer another kind of sworn testimony than what is detailed in the court files, said poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, who visited the
"Every single kid in there acknowledged it was despair without an outlet, it was a dark tomorrow without a voice," he said.
In a poem titled "Hi, Love," one of the immigrants wrote: "Bitterness, thank you for feeding me and giving me life. Without you I don't know what I'd be, I'd be someone without emotions, without reason to exist or reason to live."
In an untitled poem, another child wrote about trying to end his life six times.
"I don't know what will happen with my life," wrote yet another teen, in a poem called "I have a dream..." ''But I don't worry about that. My life has been a disaster and I don't think that will change."
None of the poems' authors is identified and the facility in Virginia was not identified in the book.
Cristina Casado, who manages the Office of Refugee Resettlement program at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, wrote in a postscript of the 111-page book that the children had
The book's publisher, Larry Moffi, said that so far "Dreaming America" sold about 1,500 copies, and all proceeds from the $16 sales were donated to a Washington legal clinic representing the immigrants in their deportation proceedings.
"They were so excited to have this book," Moffi said. The immigrants were given copies of "Dreaming America" after it was published last fall. "It's the first book they'd ever had and they're in it."
Not all the poems dwell on the bleakness of their journeys north and confinement since.
In "My Dog Spay," one immigrant wrote about the joy of his long-lost pet.
"Being without him now makes me feel like I have nothing in my life," he wrote. "And when we see each other he's going to be so happy he'll start jumping like crazy."
Another immigrant directly addresses President Donald Trump.
"You don't know what you're doing/ It's your fault we're being booted/ It's our jobs we're losing/ Damn fool, why you hassling us," he wrote.
This story has been corrected to show the title of the book is "Dreaming America," not "American Dream."
Jake Pearson, The Associated Press