The Coyotaje Express: One El Salvadorian teen tells his story of coming to the US illegally

Jim Avila, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Power Players

When 15-year-old William risked his life at the hands of illegal traffickers to make a harrowing journey from his home in El Salvador to the United States eight months ago, he did so because he believed the danger of staying in Central America outweighed the risk of the journey.

“You risk your life,” William said about the situation in El Salvador in a recent interview with “Power Players.” “Because of the gangs, you can't live in peace. They want money or they will endanger your family,” he said through his translator.

And now, William, who asked that his last name not be used, said he is sharing his story with the hope that Americans will understand the situation facing the tens of thousands of Central American minors, who like himself, have flooded across the border into the United States in recent months to escape poverty and violence.

Though President Obama has warned unaccompanied minors from coming to the United States illegally, saying they will be sent back to their country of origin, William said returning could cost him his life.

“I'm simply frightened by what is happening [there],” said William. “I think I would be killed if I went back.”

William’s journey to the United States began when his uncle took him from El Salvador to Guatemala, where he was entrusted to a “coyotaje,” or human smuggler. “That person was paid like a guide, and they took me here,” he said. William’s family paid the “coyotaje” between $5,000 and $7,000 for the journey – a price that William said was covered with assistance from his mother, who was already living in the United States.

The journey, which William remembers as “dangerous,” consisted of riding on buses and on top of trains.

“On that trip, things were very complicated, because you are risking your life,” he said. “The danger is the gang members; they want money and can even kill you. And, well, coming on the train, you can't sleep, you can't eat.”

William eventually crossed the border into the U.S. near Laredo, Texas, and was discovered by border patrol. “When I came across the desert, Immigration found us by helicopter and then patrol cars. All of us were in a big group, and they arrested the entire group,” he said.

Though he said he was glad to make contact with border patrol, he recalled that they used “offensive” words and treated the group “roughly” at first. Border patrol put the group in a room at a processing facility that William said migrant children refer to as “the icebox.” He said the room was “small, uncomfortable and … very cold.”

William was eventually moved to another facility, where he said he and the many other children staying there received “good care.” And from there, William was able to make a call to his mother, who lives in Texas, and has since been reunited with her.

Despite the dangers and difficulties of his journey to the U.S., William said “it was worth it.”

“Here, I am free from danger, I have a better future and more opportunities,” he said.

To hear more about William’s story, including his hopes of becoming an American citizen, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Serena Marshall, Alisa Wiersema and DJ Amerson contributed to this episode.

Israel Cardoza and Kaye Charles Cruz assisted in field production.