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Demonstrators seek better treatment of border kids

Tuesday - 8/5/2014, 12:28am  ET

FELICIANO.JPG
18-year-old Feliciano Hernandez speaks at Monday's demonstration. He was born in Mexico, came to the U.S. when he was 9, and is now a graduate of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in D.C. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
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WASHINGTON -- A coalition of local groups is holding weekly demonstrations in front of the White House to demand better treatment of kids who are crossing illegally into the U.S. from Mexico and other countries.

The demonstrations began in July and will continue indefinitely. Between 75 and 100 people turned out for Monday's event by the DC-MD-VA Coalition in Support of Children Fleeing Violence.

It started with a gathering outside St. John's Church, on H Street, where oversized paper butterflies were handed out.

Participants, many of them young people, were asked to write the name of someone they knew who is trying to cross the border, or has already come across, on each butterfly, meant to symbolize migration.

They also carried signs with slogans including "Legal Aid For Every Child," "We Work Hard to be in This Country," and "Imagine It Was Your Child."

The coalition's demands include the quick release of children from detention centers, legal representation for every child and a fast reunification of families.

"They're not coming here because of misinterpreted immigration policies; it's really a humanitarian issue. They're fleeing violence in their countries," says Rachel Gittinger, with the Central American Resource Center in Columbia Heights.

She says that young people have no escape from gangs in many Central American countries.

"We've seen in Honduras, in El Salvador, 7-year-olds have been killed by the gangs for not joining."

Among those speaking at the demonstration was Feliciano Hernandez, who was born in Mexico.

He says one day in 2005 when he was 9 years old, his parents announced that he was going to go to the United States.

Hernandez' brother, who had left Mexico for the U.S. years earlier and who Feliciano didn't even know, showed up to drive the boy to America.

Today, Hernandez is an 18-year-old graduate of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in D.C. "All of those people who told me ... you can't do it, you can't make it, you won't even make it to high school, I proved them wrong," he says.

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