mapAbbie VanSickleThe Washington Post

 

 On the phone, the boy was frantic. After traveling hundreds of miles from a village in Guatemala, he had made it across the U.S. border and into a government-funded shelter for unaccompanied minors.

But then something went terribly wrong.

Instead of sending him to his uncle, Carlos Enrique Pascual, a landscape worker in Florida, authorities said the shelter released the teenager to traffickers who took him to central Ohio, held him captive in a roach-infested trailer and threatened to kill him if he tried to leave.

“Please, how can I get out of this?” Pascual’s nephew begged him during a stolen moment with a telephone. “I’m hungry, and my heart is bursting with fear.”

Pascual called police and, in December 2014, authorities found his nephew, then 17, and seven other boys living in cramped, dirty trailers about an hour outside of Columbus. Authorities said they were working at Trillium Farms, one of the country’s largest egg producers, debeaking hens and cleaning cages nearly 12 hours a day, six days a week, for as little as $2 a day.

The boys were part of a surge of children flowing across the U.S.-Mexico border over the past four years, overwhelming federal officials responsible for their safekeeping, child advocates say. Since 2011, more than 125,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America have been stopped at the border, many placed in shelters funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

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