Powerful images of life at the US-Mexico border—photographed by children

The number of children detained at the southwest border of the US since October has reached a shocking 52,000, up 99% since 2013. The children, primarily teens from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, often face months or years in detention before a judge can hear their cases. An uptick in media coverage of the conditions of unattended minor detainees has raised outrage in the United States, with President Obama calling the issue an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

This problem is naturally more of a concern in border towns like Arivaca, Arizona–12 miles north of Mexico. There, Jason De León, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and director of the Undocumented Migration project, teamed up with National Geographic photographers to start photo camp for children earlier this year. Twenty-five kids, aged 13-18, from underserved communities on the Mexican border, spent five days capturing their lives.

This is the result:

Mireya Fierro

“There was no border in the beginning.”

Heather Asagra

“The border, to me, is a symbol of separation. I think it is supposed to make us feel secure, but I think it only makes the problems worse.”

Yasmin Pena

“The border means separation to me. It assures our security from drugs and weapons which makes me feel safe. But it also makes it harder for some families to come over, which makes me feel sad. I am conflicted with whether I like it up.”

Larissa Miller

“A challenge I’ve faced may be poverty. It affects my family because there is not much we can do or go to for entertainment or food.”

Sienna Wallen

Laney Juan

Pachynne Ignacio

Payton Dobrowolski

Manuel Grijalva

Kirsten Elstner

Triston Smith

Dafne Carino

Aianna D’Angelo

Murphy Van Sparrentak

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