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Immigrant teen Gaspar Marcos got thousands of dollars in donations, but he still takes the bus

Belmont High student Gaspar Marcos rushes to get ready for work at his Westlake apartment.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Even after readers donated more than $45,000 to Gaspar Marcos, the immigrant teenager still jumps on the 720 bus to his after-school job in Westwood.

Though his future looks a bit brighter, little has changed for Marcos since a Los Angeles Times story and video was published July 15, sparking an outpouring of support from readers — from Sacramento to South Korea.

The video and story followed 19 hours in his life — through a full day of high school and a late night at his restaurant job. Marcos crossed the Southwest border into the United States on his own at the age of 13 after he became an orphan in an indigenous village in Guatemala at age 5.

Gaspar Marcos is an unaccompanied minor in Los Angeles.  This is his story.  

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The 18-year-old junior attends Belmont High School, where nearly 1 in 4 of the school’s estimated 1,000 students came from Central America — many of them as unaccompanied minors.

His story mirrors that of many immigrant youth who attend school and spend their afternoons and evenings sewing clothes, cooking in restaurants, painting homes and working other jobs in Los Angeles and throughout the nation.

Most are immigrants from Central America, part of several waves of more than 100,000 who arrived as children in the U.S. in the last five years, without parents and often after perilous journeys.

The video detailing his life went viral, gaining more than 11 million views in a couple of weeks.

Marcos said he was taken aback by the support.

In the few hours after the story went online, Marcos received hundreds of Facebook friend requests. Readers sent in more than 100 emails to the reporter wanting to donate to Marcos. The teen has even gotten stopped in downtown L.A. by strangers who want a selfie with him.

Some readers even offered him a free room at their home. Marcos had to turn down those offers because they were too far from Belmont. He doesn’t have a car and walks or takes the bus wherever he goes.

“I need to be close to school because that’s important to me, for my future,” he said.

I need to be close to school because that’s important to me, for my future.

Gaspar Marcos

All of the offers have surprised him.

“I feel very good and thankful about it all, but it’s also strange that so many people know about my situation,” he said.

Despite all the recognition, Federico Bustamante, who serves as something of a big brother for Marcos, said the teen has remained grounded and generous. Bustamante started a gofundme account for Marcos, which has a goal of $100,000. So far about 40% of that has been met.

If he reaches the goal, Marcos plans for half of the money to go toward helping some of his classmates at Belmont who also came to this country by themselves. Some of that money will go to securing legal representation to try to secure immigration relief for them.

Bustamante helped Marcos retain a pro bono attorney through Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy organization that works to find representation for children in immigration court.

Marcos was able to receive a special immigrant juvenile visa, usually given to children who were found to have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents. That makes him eligible for legal residency, which he’s applying for.

However, that means he has yet to receive a Social Security number, and that initially became an obstacle to securing the money in the gofundme account. He has yet to receive some of the funds, and that’s one of the reasons he’s still working during the week. Bustamante said the issue should be resolved shortly and Marcos will have access to some of the money.

Still, Marcos said he’ll never stop working completely. He plans to work on the weekends and focus on school during the week.

Some of the money will go to a private tutor to help Marcos catch up in school and prepare him for college. Other funds will help him pay $600 monthly rent for a room near Belmont. A good chunk of the money will get stashed away for college.

It’s unclear how much money he’ll actually have to work with at the end of the day. But one thing is certain, Marcos and Bustamante said: Uncle Sam will also get his cut in taxes.

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

Follow Cindy Carcamo on Twitter @thecindycarcamo

To read the article in Spanish, clic here

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