• February 3rd, 2023
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The Price of a Migrant’s Journey: Scammed by a Trafficker


 

By Karen Gutiérrez

 

 

The eyes of a migrant reflect years of struggle, suffering, pain, and deep down, a bit of hope. They tell in silence the hard and difficult experiences the migrant had to live with to fulfill their dreams, facing very difficult circumstances from before reaching their destination in which they could lose their most precious asset: life.

 

*Josue, who in his eyes reflects the pain and suffering he went through, is a Salvadoran who had to leave behind in his country, his customs, his few belongings, and his dreams, when making the decision to emigrate to another place in search of a better future for his wife and young son.

 

He has told me about the journey they have had to endure to achieve what many call “the American dream”, that which as he says – you would have to work hard, but you could obtain prosperity and opportunities.

 

The eyes of a migrant reflect years of struggle, suffering, pain, and deep down, a bit of hope.

It all starts in El Salvador, where work is scarce, people struggle to get ahead, but they study hard; however, no job opportunities or economic income hardly allow a family to fulfill their dreams and live with dignity.

 

He enrolled in a university and to pay for his studies he needed to work, but it was impossible to do both study and work at the same time, so he abandoned his dream of becoming a professional in order to survive financially. He lived with his family in a rented house in El Salvador and earned approximately $350 a month. With that money he had to pay for food, rent, services, and transportation. Feeling trapped in a vicious cycle, without options to improve their income, without the possibility of having their own home, which they desperately wanted to purchase, and with their socio-economic conditions deteriorating, without better job opportunities and with the dream of achieving a better future for their son, he decided to start the search to migrate. The United States was his first and only option because most of his acquaintances who, as he says, lived well, had relatives who were there and sent money to help them or others had worked for years in the United States and had returned to El Salvador with their earnings.

 

Josue knocked on doors and many were closed to him, because there were three people in his family, and no one wanted to help them. One day, his wife’s sister, who is undocumented and lives in the United States, decided to bring her 21-year-old son to the U.S., but did not want him to travel alone, so she proposed to Josue and his wife that they accompany him. She would lend Josue the money they needed to be able to travel together, because as he inquired about coming to the U.S., he learned that they are charging more than $10,000 per person for crossing the border illegally. With endless dreams and illusions of a better future, Josue accepted the proposal and embarked on the journey.

 

He was called on the phone by human traffickers or “coyotes.”

 

“Grab a bus or truck that is going to take you to the border of El Salvador and you are going to go to Tecún Umán which is on the border of Guatemala with México, there I will be waiting for you,” they told him.

 

He embarked on the journey with his family and nephew, already in Tecún Umán, Guatemala. A lady introduced herself, put them on a bicycle with seats in front, and took them to a house.

 

“Tomorrow, they will help us cross. We leave at 5am, and we are going to cross a river, so get ready. I am going to go by myself, and you are going to cross with the coyote,” they were told.

 

The next day they got up very early. According to Josue, they made them walk very fast and then crossed the river on a raft. On the other side, young people on two motorcycles were waiting for them.

 

“You and your wife get on this motorcycle and your son with your nephew on the other motorcycle,” they said, and explained to Josue that they do this to avoid checkpoints.

 

Josue recounts the fear he felt at that time when he was separated from his son, because he knew many stories where children were physically and sexually abused by human traffickers, so while he was riding on the motorcycle, he was obsessed with tremendous fear.

 

The young people took them to Chiapas, México, where they had to wait seven days to be told when the time was right to go to the border. Josue so far felt lucky because he was able to go with his whole family and nothing bad had happened to them. He said that they were treated okay, but the coyotes did not give them food.

 

Before leaving El Salvador, Josue had to sell his families’ belongings, he then kept the money hidden to use in case of an emergency and to feed his family.

 

After seven days, the human trafficker finally called them.

“They are going to leave, but if they detain anyone, they cannot talk about us, do not be upset if this happens, it will take more time, but they will still reach the border,” they said.

 

The next day they got on a bus that would take them directly to México City. Josue recalled that there was a strong storm that night that deterred routine checkpoints, approximately twenty along the entire route, he said.

 

They were stopped by the border patrol agents three times to inspect their vehicle. The trafficker told the family they had to pretend to be asleep, so the agents would not ask questions about their immigration status. However, at one of the stops their luck ran out, and an officer asked Josue who was in his row of seats on the bus.

 

“Where are you from,” asked the agent.

 

“I have no identification papers,” Josue replied.

 

The officer continued his inspection and at the end, asked them to take their belongings and get off the bus.  “I thought he was going to arrest us,” recalled Josue, but the officer asked the bus driver to wait. In the middle of the inspection the officer asked several questions.

 

“What happened, because the coyote didn’t get off [the bus] with you and so how are we going to fix it?” asked the agent.

 

“Tell me,” Jose replied.

 

The officer asked for 1,000 Mexican pesos per person to let them get on the bus again. With the little he had left, he handed over the 4,000 Mexican pesos and continued his journey. For him it was fortunate that they had only asked for identification, considering that otherwise they would have continued extorting them until they reached the border.

 

Finally, they arrived in México City with the traffickers.

 

“We have successfully gone through the most difficult part of the trip.  From here to the border there is only one checkpoint, and we will pass it at dawn so as not to run into immigration border patrols,” they told him.

 

At that checkpoint the agents only questioned Josue. His wife was with their child inside the bus.  The agents inspected his suitcase, they demanded information from him, and the soldiers then left.

 

After seventeen days crossing El Salvador, Guatemala, and México, they arrived in Matamoros, Tamahulipa, near the México/U.S. border. Then the coyotes left them and abandoned them there.

 

“Walk straight and there you will find the border. We are leaving,” they told them.

 

Josue believes that they were swindled because normally people are helped to cross the river and then passed through the desert, but they were left in the middle of nowhere with a five-year-old boy, his wife, and his nephew. Not knowing what to do, Josue began to walk with his family to the border when they happened to meet a man. He asked them to approach him, and despite their fear of him, they began to speak with him.

 

“If you want to enter the country, you will have to take the COVID test and there in that line, the gringos (U.S. officials) give you the exam, just give me something (a little money) for the information,” he told them.

 

Josue gave the man some of the little money he had left and went to the long line for COVID tests. They were in line until the next day, with no food to eat, but he realized there was an organization of immigration lawyers to assist the migrants.

 

“Why do people stand in this line?” Josue asked.

 

They were told that the COVID tests were not given in that line, but they had to go first to migration authorities, present themselves to be able to enter the country, and explain about their immigration case. They were sent to a shelter that supports migrants trying to cross the border while their case was being processed.

 

They were in that location two months waiting for an answer, seeing many families come and go with similar cases and dreams, eating only twice a day because it was what the shelter provided them. They were not able to work, so they had to ask their relatives in El Salvador to help them with money.

 

Photo: AdobeStock A fence on the U.S./Mexico border.

One day when Josue’s hopes were failing, and depression was already an integral part of their lives, with his wife undergoing so much stress that she began to lose her hair, and her son, who in order to persuade him to migrate with them, they had told him they were going to take him to Disneyworld, he just wanted to return home and not continue living in these difficult conditions—when suddenly, their lawyer called them to tell them they could cross into the U.S. and argue and fight for their immigration case in the United States. They were overwhelmed with emotion, and they felt that finally their journey would improve.

 

Finally, permission to enter the U.S. was in their own hands. To make their case to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, they took a bus to Texas. From there, they called his wife’s sister and asked for help to travel to where she lived in Denver, Colorado. Josue still remembers his first day, as he arrived at his sister-in-law’s house and took a breather and was relieved to get his family to safety after their very long journey.

 

The road has not been easy for Josue and his family. They have not yet adapted to the harsh climate and freezing nights of Colorado, and they continue to hope to resolve their immigration status. He works in two places; his first job starts at 3a.m.  and he works until 11:30am, and his second job begins at Noon until his responsibilities end each day, with no structured ending time. On many days feels his strength ebbing, and he is not able to get up to start work again the next day. However, the rent, the bills, the food costs, and the debt he has with his wife’s sister—exceeding $14,000, with interest doubling the amount, make him get up every day to struggle for his family. His wife, who is now pregnant again, is looking for work to help the family financially, with the sole hope of being able to pay off all of their debts. They look forward to living better in a few years and finally, among all of their goals, being able to fulfill their son’s dream of seeing Mickey Mouse at DisneyWorld in Orlando, Florida.

 

*The name in this article has been changed to protect this migrant’s identity.

 

 

Karen Gutiérrez is a Journalist in Colorado.

 

Read More Cover Features at: ELSEMANARIO.US