Brady Abel Cano Gamarro looks like any other South Florida high school teen.
He has curly brown hair, an easy smile and speaks with a firmness and authority beyond his 18 years of age.
But Cano is no typical high school kid. He is one of the thousands of young Central Americans who continue to arrive without their parents at the Mexican border.
Cano made the trip over land from his native Guatemala to the U.S. border in 2014 — despite a birth defect that left his right foot twisted sideways. He was 16 when he started out.
Never miss a local story.
“I traveled by bus,” Cano recalled during an interview at his lawyer’s office in Coral Gables last week. “I crossed Mexico by bus, and a portion by train, until I managed to reach the U.S. border.”
Cano crossed the Rio Grande with a group of other Central American minors aboard a rubber raft one afternoon last year. Soon after the group crossed to the American side, Border Patrol agents detained them, Cano recalled.
Cano joined the ranks of unaccompanied Central American minors fleeing gang violence and worsening economic conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
While fewer than 7,000 unaccompanied children crossed the Mexican-American border annually between 2004 and 2011, the number spiked to more than 13,000 in 2012 and more than 24,000 in 2013, according to a report published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
More than 51,000 unaccompanied children from the three countries crossed the border in 2014. The number declined sharply in 2015, when fewer than 29,000 unaccompanied minors from the three countries crossed in 2015.
So far in fiscal year 2016, which began Oct. 1, 2015, the number is a little fewer than 4,000 minors — though The New York Times reported last month that the number of migrants crossing the Rio Grande illegally has “risen sharply in recent weeks, replaying scenes from the influx of Central American children and families in South Texas last year.”
In Cano’s case, he eventually made his way to Miami Beach because an aunt lives there.
She took him to see Coral Gables immigration attorney Eduardo Soto, who represented him for free and recently got him a green card and permanent residency.
Soto first demonstrated in juvenile court that Cano had been abandoned, abused or neglected and thus obtained a dependency order. When minors are adjudicated as dependent, the court assumes jurisdiction over them and that qualifies them to be considered for green-card status.
Cano says he has no contact with his parents, but did not provide details about his family life.
“When I saw the kid and I saw his special needs, who obviously showed the courage to come to this country, I felt he deserved a break and I decided to give him one,” said Soto in an interview in his office last week.
Cano, a native of Quiché department, in western Guatemala, said he left his country for the United States because he wanted a new start for his life.
“Thanks to God, I now have my residence and I am happy,” said Cano. “After everything I’ve gone through, I’m happy. I went hungry, without sleep, and risked my life on the way because Mexico is a very violent country.”
Many migrants have been kidnapped or killed by armed gangs in Mexico as they make their way to the U.S. border.
Cano said he encountered no violence in Mexico.
“Fortunately, nothing happened,” said Cano. “I had a very complicated journey, but it was very interesting.”
He said that after the Border Patrol detained him and the other members of his group, they were taken to various detention centers near the border.
Eventually, he was released and allowed to link up with his aunt, who brought him to Miami Beach.