Benjamin Serratos, 7, protests in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) field office in San Francisco on June 30.

Photo Alexis Terrazas

Gazing down at her own 7-year-old son, Benjamin, Guillermina Castellanos couldn’t bear the thought. 

“I asked myself, ‘How is it possible for a child, like my son over there, with his little hands to hold onto a train?’” Castellanos said, in reference to the more than 52,000 immigrant children who, in abandoning their homelands, have been caught and detained at the U.S. border since last October. “As a mother, that broke my heart.”

Castellanos, alongside her son and 11-year-old daughter, Precious, was one of about 50 people protesting in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) field office in San Francisco on June 30, demanding the release of the children, who mostly hail from Central America.

“As a teacher of immigrants mainly, I’ve been aware of the issues facing immigrants, so this is not a new issue for me. But it’s something that’s become increasingly hard to stomach,” said Bruce Neuburger, an ESL teacher at City College of San Francisco, who volunteers with The Stop Mass Incarceration Network, which organized the protest. “I think it’s really time for people to stand up…to support these kids and demand that they be allowed to stay here.”

Castellanos, co-founder of “La Colectiva de Mujeres,” brought many supporters to the protest, including Mariana Aguilar.

“I have a close connection to this,” Aguilar said, explaining that her 27-year-old son, while trying to cross the border, was kidnapped by the Zetas, an organized crime syndicate in Mexico. He has since escaped, and is currently in hiding. “It’s something that’s very difficult.”

According to figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the number of unaccompanied immigrant children caught at the border has increased by 99 percent in the last fiscal year. That increase has forced many of the detention centers located along the Southwest and Texas border to become overcrowded.

Figures showed that 15,027 of the minors caught this fiscal year hailed from Honduras, while 12,670 were from Guatemala, 12,146 were from Mexico, and 11,436 were from El Salvador.