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Through Hell to Hope: Migrants Trying to Reach the USA

Artist: L. V. Díaz

On September 23, 2022, my husband, my daughter and I decided to undertake a journey for a better future, for a better quality of life.  We are from Venezuela, but had been living in Peru.  Everything was going well when we started out in Peru, then Ecuador.  Our nightmare began in Colombia.  We entered into the Darién jungle on September 27.  No one told us the horrible truth that is hidden in this jungle.  We saw the dead left by their family members. Some children who did not have money were raped or even killed by paramilitary personnel.

I especially suffered due to being overweight.  It was very difficult for me to climb the mountains.  I was always the last one.  It was always my nephew who waited to help me, because my husband was in charge of carrying the bags with our food and what little clothing we decided to keep after the first mountain.

I lost all of my toenails.  I suffered a lot because no sooner had we started and my feet were already in bad shape.  I crossed 2 mountains in only my socks because my toenails hurt so much and the bottoms of my feet were covered in blisters.  It took us 12 days to traverse through the jungle.  We ran out of food on day 10.  For 2 days we drank water from the river and what we begged off of passersby.  We were tired and weak, distressed because our daughter was weak.

 We decided to take a shortcut across the river.  It was a terrible decision because when I was halfway across the river a strong current caused me to lose my footing.  I was slapped against a rock, in peril of drowning.  My husband realized I was swallowing lots of water.  He grabbed me by the hand the best he could and began to cry for help.  Then a young man helped him to get me out of the river.

 We lost our remaining belongings, like our clothes and money.  But the most important thing is that they saved me from drowning and I am still alive.  It was a horrible scare.  After they pulled me from the river I just cried and wailed.

We continued our journey.  Because I had lost my sandals, my husband gave me his boots.  It was then I saw the wounds he sustained on his feet: ulcers on his heels, wounds over most of his feet, covered in blood.  Because of the pain he was enduring, we decided to rest that day.  We were just 8 hours from escaping this hell where I almost lost my life.

The next day we resumed our journey.

We stayed 5 days at the United Nations camp so they could attend to our wounds.  Then, little by little, we went through Panama, Costa Rica, and then Nicaragua.  We arrived at a dreadful banana plantation where our wounded feet made it difficult to walk.  Little by little we made it to Honduras, and then to Guatemala.  The people in both places were kind.  However, the government officials were like garbage.  At Corinto, one of the official border crossing sites between Honduras and Guatemala, we had to stay 4 days, sleeping on cardboard, because they would not let us pass, and we had nothing to eat.

A man said to my husband, “Go with your daughter and ask if the truck drivers will help you.”  They gave us money to buy food, and on the 5th day at the border we were able to move on.  Full of fear, we embarked on a barge because we had to cross the Motagua river.  We were able to get across, but once again we were without transportation because we were left in a very dangerous place.  We walked for 2 hours, fleeing from the police.  We hid in another banana plantation, but we did not know where to approach to get past the police.  By this time it was dark.  Off in the distance we saw a police truck with officers with lanterns and rifles.

The best we could, we hid ourselves, very afraid of the awful things we had already seen.  We tried to sleep in a well.  This was a bad idea because ants, large and small, bit our backs, legs, and all over.  We had to endure the pain and itching because we could not risk the police discovering us.  They got tired of looking for us, so we decided to move on.  At this point, we met a Guatemalan family that helped us a lot, thank God.

Artist:  L. V. Díaz

I fell ill with fever for the next 2 weeks, so we could not keep going.  When I get better we decided to travel through the capitol, Guatemala City.  There, the police themselves robbed us and several other groups of immigrants, again.

Still, we went on.  By this point, my husband was discouraged to the point he did not want to go on.  However, I was still filled with faith and hope that we would reach our destination.

We managed to make it to Tapachula, Mexico, the worse of the countries we were to travel through.  We had to stay 20 days in Tapachula because I once again became sick with fever and an exacerbation of asthma.  Even so, we tried to go out each day to look for work, to no avail, every day.  Because of this, my husband decided to call some family friends to wire us money.  We were living in the street, and had no money to buy food.

Thanks to my Almighty God, I got better.  We turned ourselves into Mexican Immigration and they gave us a document of permission to go as far as Arriaga, Chiapas.  My husband bought bus tickets to Arriaga.  When we were not quite there, in Tonalá, we were forced to get off the bus at an Immigration Checkpoint.  We were not detained more than 5 minutes but the bus had already left so we had to wait for another one.

While we were waiting, a man in a red car stopped and offered to give us a ride.  We were naive about what was about to happen to us. After driving just 4 km, we reached another police checkpoint where the driver was obligated to get out of the car and we had to show our documents for passage to Arriaga.  We felt badly because we thought we had inconvenienced the man and had gotten him into trouble.  But no, he was already wanted for human and drug trafficking.  Thank God the police checkpoint was there and they did their job.  Otherwise, we may not be alive to tell this story.

We were detained 8 hours in an office in Tonalá so they could check if what we told them was the truth or a lie.  A police commissioner approached us and asked us how we were doing.  We said we were scared.  “Well, next time, do not get into any car with someone unknown to you for any reason.”  He then proceeded to show us the cell phone messages and photos of us the evil man had taken, The text message read, “I’ll get back to you in a little bit, Immigration is stopping me.  Hopefully they won’t take away the ‘3 bunnies’ I am bring you, and also a minor girl.”  When we read this we began to cry and hug our daughter, because we realized we just missed being sold into human sex trafficking, or worse.  Then the commissioner brought us to a shelter in Arriaga.

Within 3 days we had made plans to continue to San Pedro to get permission to travel farther.  At the last checkpoint, my husband and the other members of our group managed to get through.  However, my daughter and I were captured by Immigration and locked in a white lorry.  This was a psychological trauma and my daughter panicked.  It took all my strength not to faint, knowing what they could do to us.

But what the Immigration officials wanted was money.  I gave them my last 500 pesos, and they let us go.  We made it to the camp and got our names on the list.  The next day they gave us documents of passage through Mexico.  We left there, on our way to Mexico City.  From there, we went to Monterrey, and from Monterrey, to Matamoros.  On this part of the journey, there are a lot of extortion, kidnappings, and killings—if you do not give them what they want.  We had to get through 3 checkpoints:  one was manned by state police, another by drug cartels, and the third by Immigration.  If you did not give them the money they asked, they would put you in jail in Reynosa for 10 days, or send you all the way back to Tapachula.

Finally, we made it to Matamoros where we stayed 1 month and 7 days, waiting for our request to be processed, anxious and at the point of despair.  Some days were discouraging, others were very cold.  However, with great faith and hope that soon we would be able to cross.

Here I am, summarizing a little of the travels of these long 3 months and 18 days since we left Peru for the United States.  For a new future, a fresh start, for me, my husband, my children, my grandson, my parents.  Here I am, a warrior of always moving forward.  I owe my life and that of my family first and foremost to God, who is always at our side, caring for us and protecting us.  To Him, we owe our lives, faith, and hope.  Thank you dear God for not abandoning me.

Departure:  September 23, 2022       Arrival:  January 10, 2023

Houston Catholic Worker, January-March 2023, Vol. XLIII, No. 1.