Anyra Cano, director of programs and outreach for Fellowship Southwest, recently interviewed a young man from South America who was released from a U.S. immigration detention center. To protect his identity, that man is identified here as “PR.”
PR, why did you come to the USA?
I came because life was very hard in my country. The cost of living is almost impossible. To make matters worse, in the city I come from, the rise of poverty has led to the rise of guerillas and cartels.
These groups are extorting business owners and any person they find. There is much corruption, my life was threatened, and several family members were killed. You work knowing it will not be sufficient, and you live in fear of not making enough to pay those who are extorting you.
I found myself in a crucible and decided I would take the dangerous risk to come to the USA.
What was your journey like?
With little money, I began the 38-day journey north. I walked for the most part, hitched rides, rode on motorized boats in dangerous waters, and sometimes slept in cold semi-truck trailers.
The journey was filled with people in similar situations. Each one of us would encourage each other to keep going. Daily, in the jungle, people would die — children, women and strong healthy men. There is great exhaustion, hunger, harsh weather and grief.
Along the way, I was held and beaten by cartels, robbed and was nearly bitten by a rattlesnake. Others would be kidnapped and killed. Women were raped, and children would be separated from their families.
It was difficult to know who to trust; nevertheless, many people along the way were moved to compassion. Many days I had no money. I had no choice but to beg for food, money or for a corner of a safe building to sleep.
“Throughout my journey, compassionate strangers provided tacos or food, money, clothing, rides and wisdom.”
Throughout my journey, compassionate strangers provided tacos or food, money, clothing, rides and wisdom. Had it not been for these compassionate people, I don’t know where I would be today.
Where did you cross?
I crossed into the USA by the river near Piedras Negras/Eagle Pass. I risked my life once more and swam across the river. On the other side, Border Patrol was waiting to detain me. My last risky decision was turning myself over to Border Patrol or staying in Mexico for months without any guarantee that I could be allowed to seek asylum on the bridge in the USA. I had nothing, and I could not even afford to stay in Mexico to wait.
Tell me about your time in detention.
After turning myself in, I was taken to what is called by many migrants, “las hieleras,” translated to “the icebox” — a holding and processing place. The officials there took away the very little I had left, which was just my clothing and my Bible that had my personal identifying documents and contact information inside of it.
I didn’t care much about my clothes, although I was freezing. What I cared about most were my documents and my I.D. The more I begged and tried to explain that I needed those documents, the more I was reprimanded.
We spent hours in the freezing rooms without food and clothing. Eventually we were offered food, water, sweatpants and flip-flops.
The facility workers eventually let us go into a room with mattresses on the floor and had us go in there to rest. Every three to four hours we were awakened with banging of doors and walls, announcing that there was food for us to eat. Days later, I was transferred to another facility in Karnes City. We were being sent there because our cases did not initially meet the qualification for asylum.
During our time in the detention center at Karnes City, things did not get any easier. We went for many hours without meals. We were yelled at repeatedly, “This is not your country, you have no rights here.” Or, “You are illegals, you cannot complain!”
We were consistently threatened with deportation. Many of us had given everything we had, all to learn that we would be deported. We were being treated so badly.
“Daily, migrants were deciding that taking their lives was a lighter burden to carry.”
There were migrants who had borrowed thousands of dollars to get to the USA. They found themselves in despair and depression. Their lives and the lives of their families were in more danger than before. They were so overwhelmed that they could find no other solution than to attempt to take their lives. Daily, migrants were deciding that taking their lives was a lighter burden to carry. Either way, their lives were in danger, and they felt they had failed their families.
I was so consumed with depression and disappointment, I had lived too many horrendous things, and now I was facing deportation. I decided to seek professional help. God had saved my life so many times before, and I needed help sorting through my terrifying thoughts. Thankfully, I was offered the opportunity to speak to a psychologist who helped me process what I had lived and what was to come.
What is your current situation now?
As I awaited to hear about my deportation, I kept advocating for an appeal of my case. I was given a court hearing to present my asylum case before a judge. The judge granted me the opportunity to restart my asylum process, this time outside the detention center.
I am now living with a family member who has graciously taken me in. I am not allowed to work for the time being; it can take about six months before I am given a working permit. For now, I am thankful to have safe shelter and a family who is supporting me during this time.
That time I was suddenly responsible for getting nine migrants through security at DFW Airport | Opinion by Mark Wingfield
Who is my neighbor? Reflecting theologically on the migrant crisis | Opinion by Kate Hanch
With refugee numbers rising worldwide, racism remains a factor in where they’re accepted and how quickly