On a chilly fall night in Fresno, Manuel’s father Santos receives the call, human traffickers carrying his son are ready to make a drop. We set out for an isolated gas station near Bakersfield, the instructions simply wait. Three hours pass, finally a dark SUV pulls up. With only a red shirt on his back an emaciated Manuel steps out, his father Santos just ten feet away, and for the first time in eight years father and son hug.
“On the road some would tell me no, border patrol is going to get us, that we would give up and I said no, I'm not giving up, either border patrol gets me or I arrive, but giving up, no," said Manuel.
Six months would pass before we would see Manuel again, life as it was went on. If surviving the trip to America was Manuel's greatest accomplishment, learning to fit in quickly became his most pressing challenge. At the Fresno Adult School Manuel is starting from scratch, two days a week he comes to the class of Mrs. Musso. English, once a novelty in El Salvador is now his ticket in.
“Before you came we talked about the American dream, has that dream come true,” CBS47's Jack Highberger asked Manuel.
“In part yes and in part no because it’s not how I expected. When you’re in your country people tell you that the United States is so beautiful, that there’s lots of money and such. But they didn’t tell me how hard it would be,” said Manuel.
It's estimated more than two and half million people in California are undocumented. On paper their lives don't exist. For Manuel life is often lonely, he lives in a small apartment with his father Santos. Finding work has proven to be a challenge, his immigration status often gets in the way. A friend helped him get a job washing dishes - it keeps him busy but seldom content. Violin lessons have become Manuel’s only indulgence, nearly every cent he makes goes toward a larger goal that remains unchanged.
"I want to save money, have my mom build her house, and however I can help my brothers,” said Manuel.
Manuel’s dream is to make a difference in the life of his family left behind in El Salvador, he knows it will come at a price. The journey to America has already cost him nearly everything he owned. But through it all he found something once thought gone forever - his father.
"It’s been worth it, because what I wanted was that he be here with me, and well I achieved my goal. They think you leave them because you don’t love them. but it’s not that way,” said Santos.
Over eight years of separation have left Santos and Manuel with plenty to talk about. On this day though – father and son just wanted to have fun. Life in America is far from easy but for Santos and Manuel it’s finally a life spent together.