Young and undocumented in Philly: How teens are finding support and community
When you’re a teenager, there are the everyday things you have to deal with: showing up to school on time; doing your homework; extracurriculars; perhaps even a boyfriend or girlfriend.
But when you’re also undocumented, there are the higher-stake things to worry about too. Being in a new country. Having to learn a new culture and language. And then, there’s citizenship status — whether it’s yours or a relative’s, you also have to worry about court proceedings, the possibility of being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, deportation, and more.
“You can get really depressed,” Keyri Artillero said during an interview in Spanish. She’s 14 and attends Franklin Learning Center in Spring Garden.
Keyri came to the United States with her mother and three siblings, escaping a dangerous situation in Mexico after Keyri’s uncle, her mom’s brother, was murdered by the cartel. Her family was widely reported about in Philadelphia as they were on the brink of being deported. But before that could happen, Keyri’s mom, Carmela Apolonio Hernandez, went knocking on every church door she could, seeking sanctuary. They found it and lived for a year at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia.
After several weeks inside the church, Keyri’s mother decided it was time for her children to go to school. That was at the end of 2018. Since then, Keryi and her family have relocated to Germantown Mennonite Church.
High school was a hard transition, Keyri said — once again, new surroundings. She knows little English, and there weren’t many other students to connect with who were like her.
Until she learned about La Puerta Abierta — Spanish for “the open door.”