Hundreds of Central American youngsters arriving in North Carolina from the southern U.S. border, and who were part of the massive wave of immigrants that entered the country illegally over the past few months, are getting ready to start classes next Monday in hopes of beginning a new life.

Only 9 years old, Liesdenis Ochoa has gone through the terror of street gangs threatening her back in Honduras, the subsequent months-long journey to join her mother in the United States, and being detained for weeks in an immigrant shelter on the border.

The girl, who arrived last June and believes she is the first of that exodus to arrive in Charlotte to be reunited with a parent, feels "happy" now because in two days she will attend Idlewild Elementary School in Mecklenburg County where Charlotte is located, the largest city in the state.

"Here I'm not afraid, I like my house, the food at McDonald's and my new school - the teacher is very good," the little girl told Efe.

According to figures of the authorities in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, or CMS, at least 540 students from Central America have registered in 164 elementary schools, middle schools and high schools in the city.

Federal government figures indicate that more than 1,200 immigrant minors, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have been sent to this state since last January to be entrusted to family members or sponsors.

Jessica Ochoa, the mother of Liesdenis, told Efe that her daughter had lived in Honduras with her grandmother in constant anxiety because of the threats of street gangs, since the girl's father is a policeman who has taken part in arresting gang members.

"My daughter practically never went to school because the gangs were always menacing her - which is why she didn't learn to read or write. She lived in constant panic, she went through a lot of stress, she had nightmares, but she's gradually adapting to her new life," her mother said.

Last Wednesday the child had her first court appearance in Charlotte, which analyzed her process of deportation, and at a press conference later she said she wanted to stay in this city with her mother.

"I don't want them to deport me, I want to stay in this country, here I am free," she said.

To date in this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, more than 58,000 youngsters unaccompanied by adults have entered the U.S. illegally, mostly by crossing the border into Texas, according to official statistics.

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