“Unaccompanied” is an audio-visual story of young immigrants in the Washington, D.C. area who were among the thousands of children seeking refuge from the violence of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala created by photographer Oliver Contreras and CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center. Following President Obama’s statement about a humanitarian crisis on the border in the summer of 2014, these youths captured the national spotlight. Countless articles related stories of tragic and violent journeys.

Noticeably absent from some of the discourse were the voices of the youths themselves. What circumstances drove the children to seek refuge on U.S. soil? What challenges do they face adapting to a new life?

“Unaccompanied” provides these youths a platform to directly share their personal stories with the public. Unaccompanied child immigrants represent an entanglement of issues in both their native and new countries. This project seeks to demonstrate the realities that youth immigrants face: the doubts, aspirations, complexity and humanity of their experience.

Captions were contributed by Elliot Blumberg. Some names in this series have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

On his second attempt, Marvin was held in a house with other immigrants by the Mexican military, who found their coyote nearby with drugs. “I’ve had someone point a gun at my head and threaten to kill me,” he says, describing the experience.

These traumatic experiences imprint themselves on many of the unaccompanied, but Marvin’s story turned around upon his entrance into the U.S. He graduated from high school as salutatorian and received a full scholarship to a university.

Mauricio was able to call his mother for help and safely reunite with her.  Now he wants to value her sacrifice and succeed in his new home. “For me, the American dream consists of overcoming, of happiness, and of reunification with your family.”

From a young age, Antonio loved aviation. At age 9, his grandparents forced him to quit school and work as a fisherman. He protested, but they beat him repeatedly until he complied. Antonio was able to leave Guatemala five years later with the help of his mother. “I ran to hug her and didn’t let go and started to cry and cry … I didn’t remember her, only from photos and talking on the phone.”

Daisy received little to no support following the trauma, and as a result, began cutting herself. This continued after her border crossing until she started receiving counseling through the public school system.

“And finally they believed me,” she says.

Two weeks after he arrived on U.S. soil, Adelso, 24, got a job in a restaurant. He now works in construction and lives with relatives, but his siblings and parents remain in El Salvador and receive his economic assistance. His dream of pursuing architecture is on hold for the moment.

“We’re here to do the best we can,” he says.

At 19, Sara is in her final year of high school. Upon graduation, she will continue her job waiting tables and sending money to her parents, who remain in El Salvador.

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Despite her humble position, Sara dreams of studying to become a doctor. “There aren’t excuses for not dreaming,” Sara says.

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