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The Story of my Journey to the United States Begins With Poverty

My story begins with the poverty in our country, El Salvador. Due to the lack of work, very low salaries and the lack of a basic food basket for the family and the debts that stack up that many times we cannot pay, I had to leave my country.

I couldn’t pay for my house. I didn’t have the money to pay the bank debt, I couldn’t pay for my children to go to school, I didn’t have money to buy them food.

Besides, there is so much violence. There is always the danger that when one has worked hard for two weeks, on payday thieves board the buses and take all the money we have earned, all that we had to buy food for the family and the money for bus fare to continue working. Many, thinking of all this, resist the robbers, and are killed.

So, with sorrow and pain in my heart, I had to tell my wife that the only way out was to put trust in God and leave to go the United States. My wife didn’t want this at the beginning, so I decided to have patience. But I knew that at home I could not provide for my family. And so I left El Salvador on the 5 th of January. I went to the bus terminal and bought a ticket to Guatemala. Everything went well, thanks be to God. Many lose their money to police on this trip, but I didn’t.

Before leaving I put myself in God’s hands. I arrived at the Mexican border and walked across it, although with fear, knowing that there were many places where Central American immigrants were assaulted. But through the whole trip I never stopped praying to my almighty Father, through Jesus Christ, that he care for me and that he not permit anything bad to happen to me.

I got to the train tracks where I had to get on the train to begin to travel north, but the train took three days to get there. For these three days we had to sleep outside in the brush.

When it was time to jump onto the train, we had to pay a woman who was a part of the mafia that operates along the whole train line. She charged $350 pesos for each person. Whoever did not pay could not board the train. By paying this we were free from being assaulted. We paid, and thus we could get on the train and travel almost two days until we arrived at a place called Palenque. We arrived in the morning and left at about 9 o’clock at night under a heavy rain in the freight train cars, arriving in Coatzacoalcos. But those of the mafias who kidnap immigrants to ask for money from their families in the United States were on the train.

Held by Kidnappers

Those guys from the gang got on the train car where we were—my cousin, a brother-in-law of my cousin—and with pistol in hand and insulting us in many ways, they told us to get off and that nobody should try to escape or they would shoot us.

All of us, with fear, began to get off the train, and they made us all get into one train car, almost one on top of the other.

When we arrived in Coatzacoalcos, they stopped the train in a place that they had already arranged with the train conductor, and there they had some trucks. They made us all get off and into the trucks. Some were able to escape during this process. They took us three and all the rest that they had caught to a house far form there. As the truck was enclosed, no one cried out. As soon as we arrived, they locked us in at a house. Inside the house there were two women who cooked for the people and about eight men who watched us. These men were in charge of conversing with us to obtain a phone number of a family member who could help us. They had us there four days.

I thought that we were not going to be able to get out of there, but all the time I was praying to God that he would help us out of that problem. When it was our turn to give the phone number, we said there was none, that we planned to work in Mexico to earn enough money to go to the United States. They tried to convince us that it would be better to give a number. After a time, when they saw that they could not get a number from us, they said we could work there for them for three months and then they would put us on our way to the United States. We did not accept, begging them to let us go. After a long time they let us go, as if God was doing his work. They said they would take us back to the train, and so it was.

They left us at the tracks at about 11:00 at night. We spent that night under the train cars because it was raining and very cold.

Free to Continue

The next day we took the train to Tierra Blanca. From there, another train to another town, and then to Mexico City. From there another train to San Luis, and from San Luis to another town about eight miles away. When we got there, we met two Hondurans who told us that upon arriving in Saltillo the mafia had caught them, kidnapped them, and beaten them badly, so they decided to return. We decided not to go that way, returning part way, then found our way to Monterrey and then to Matamoros.

At the Border

Up until this time we had not had any problems with Immigration, but upon entering Matamoros, there was a check point. They detained my cousin, but with the help of God, he convinced them to let us go.

In Matamoros we looked for a house of hospitality for immigrants. They allowed us to stay several days, but our family didn’t have money to help us yet. We found a church that would take us in for almost a month. My cousin was able to cross first, but U. S. Immi-gration caught him. Then my cousin’s brother-in-law and I were able to cross, but as soon as we crossed, Immigration was waiting for us and all the people began to run. In the desperation to escape, they tripped and fell into cactus with thorns. I and three others went into a whole section of thorns and they stopped following us. After an hour, we continued walking.

In McAllen we found a woman coyote. She agreed to take us, but put us in a house for three days. Then she took us outside of McAllen and set us walking in the country. We walked two nights and one day.

When we started, a Salvadoran couple came with us. The husband had been sick during the time he was in the house. He was very weak and could hardly walk. Some of us tried to help him to walk, but he could not. After a time, the coyote told him, do you know what, you cannot walk, stay here. And he left them alone. He told them, there is a ranch, ask for help there. And we continued walking.

The weather was very cold; the water we carried was half frozen. We continued walking two nights and a day. Further on, a Guatemalan could not walk any longer and in the same way they said, this is the way, or you stay here. Later a Honduran was dragging one foot and my knees hurt. I couldn’t bend them any more. It was a terrible pain and I prayed to God to give me strength.

All This Suffering For Nothing?

We finally arrived where they had a truck. They told us to get in, almost on top of one another. We were sixteen, together with the coyotes and we began to drive on a highway toward Houston. But in a town a couple of hours from Houston there was a check point and they detained us.

When the driver stopped the car, some were able to escape, but since I was way under in the truck, I couldn’t get out. I tried to hide. Iwas the last one. When they realized that I was there, they told me to get out. But when I did, I could hardly stand up. I was dehydrated and dying from the cold. When I got out, I thought that all that suffering had been for naught, but I thought if that is God’s will, so be it, although I was not really in agreement; I had been almost sure that God had brought me and that I was going to arrive safely.

When I was standing in front of this policeman, he said to me, Are you hungry? I said yes. He asked, When did you last eat? I said yesterday. And then he said, in the Spanish he knew, You – not jail. I heard him but I did not believe it. Since I was dying of thirst, I asked him if he had a little water and if he could give me some. He said, not here, but in the other car. He talked with the other officer and then he took me to the other car and told me to get in, without handcuffs or tying me up. Then he took me to a fast food restaurant and ordered the biggest hamburger they had along with a drink, and he told me, drink, eat. I couldn’t believe it and couldn’t find a way to thank him.

Then he took me to a gas station and said, Good luck! In two hours on this highway you will find Houston. Goodbye!

As I was able, I thanked him and got out of the patrol car. I gave thanks to God and then asked him to send me an angel to take me to Houston. A trailer truck arrived and I asked the driver to take me, but he said he had no room. The driver of the next trailer that came along brought me to Houston, and then asking directions and walking, I came to Casa Juan Diego, an oasis for immigrants to rest after a long and difficult journey.

All this happened through the work and grace of God. I give thanks to God, because without him, none of this would have been possible.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, March-April 2009.