Why Central American Refugees Can’t Move North, Can’t Stay in Mexico, and Can’t Go Home
Introduction: Author’s Note
When did immigration become such a crime? How did descendants of immigrants come to turn against other immigrants? What or who is behind the separation of families, neighbors, friends, and loved ones? Why are refugees and asylum seekers being persecuted and placed in detention centers as if they committed crimes against humanity? And why is it that people began turning a blind eye towards the injustices being committed by the US and Mexican governments?
If you have been paying attention to what the United States has been doing to refugees and asylum seekers at the Southern border then I firmly believe that you can see the wrongs being committed. Whether you choose to call the abuse in detention centers “fake news” or to believe that these injustices are indeed happening, either way, I believe that just hearing the news was enough to bring a strong reaction. It is hard to believe that the country that prides itself on “receiving the poor and the tired from other nations” is also partaking in actions similar to Nazi Germany but I must insist that we stop rejecting news of injustices or taking them lightly because they are happening right now.
It is also very important that we understand that all the information circling the web and exposing the nations’ injustices seem to be coming all at once because we are living in a time when injustices can no longer be hidden or censored as the internet has brought upon an age of connectivity and truth. Right now, in the USA and around the world people are marching together for Black Lives Matter. What the Black Lives Matter movement has shown the world is that we are united against injustices to an extent that not even I could have imagined. What this beautiful movement has done is to provide us with the attention and the motivation to be allies and support communities that were ravaged and hurt by Imperial countries. I want to utilize this movement’s momentum to bring attention to the injustices happening down at the U.S. Southern border, where thousands of migrants seeking protection have now found themselves stuck in Tijuana or inside detention centers. What I hope to accomplish with this report is to demonstrate the loop of violence that migrants have found themselves locked in and to show how the recent immigration laws created and enacted by the U.S. and Mexican governments has created one of the most systematic and genocidal experiences for immigrants.
The stories of asylum seekers and refugees will be shared. The stories you will read below each come from migrants who fled from Central America. Through their experiences and their recounting of their journeys you will learn about the social and humanitarian issues taking place in their countries of origin, you will better understand why they are migrating to countries like the United States, and you will hear primary sources describing the conditions and treatments seen in detention centers in the U.S. Finally, you will be educated on how you can help as well as how and who are the people/institutions currently fighting against oppression and for the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants.
Before you read the stories, I want to highlight a few points. The first being that, although the stories you will read all come from Central Americans, during my research, I came to understand that this crisis at the Southern border is not only affecting Central Americans and other Latinx folks, but it also affects many more migrants from around the world, including Asians, Africans, and even Europeans. Due to immigration laws blocking individuals’ ability to travel across the US-Mexico border, Tijuana has become a cosmopolitan city. Whereas Tijuana was once a city highly populated by Northern Mexicans, today the city’s population has seen massive growth in non-Mexican populations. As I walked around the streets of downtown, Avenida Revolución, I noticed that there were shops and restaurants ran by Haitians, Vietnamese, Central Americans, Africans, and much more.
Through speaking with the staff at the Espacio Migrante and Casa del Migrante shelters I learned that Tijuana has gone through very rapid changes in the past years. I was told that as the caravans of migrants began arriving in Tijuana in Fall 2018, the need to provide individuals with shelter, food, and other resources increased almost exponentially. Whereas in the early 2000s many Tijuana shelters focused on helping deportees, these same shelters have now had to shift their focus in an effort to help refugees and asylum seekers coming from down South.
The increase of migrants arriving in Tijuana revealed to me both the best parts about this growth of communities in the city, while also demonstrating the worst outcomes of it. The best parts about the increase in various communities arriving to Tijuana was revealed to me in a conversation with one of the asylum seekers at the Espacio Migrante. She expressed that only by coming here was she able to meet people from Honduras, Guatemala, and Haiti. She expressed her sense of community and the respect that she has towards the non-Salvadorans she has met. She also told me that she never would have thought that they would have so much in common. However, despite the journey and the experience of bringing people from various parts across the world together, I also witnessed how the increasing numbers of foreigners in Tijuana had caused some folks to display xenophobic and intolerant attitudes towards immigrants. Despite the increasing hostility towards migrants, the refugees and asylum seekers also had large support networks based in Tijuana, some of which even had ties to organizations in the United States such as Al Otro Lado, a legal service and organization whose members go down to Mexico and provide free or reduced-cost services for deportees, asylum seekers, and refugees.
The next point I want to highlight expands on the importance of shelters in Tijuana. Of the shelters I visited and stayed at, one thing I noticed they all share is how they communicate with other shelters in the city through word of mouth and networks. Through communication with one another, the staff at the shelters can support each other and the migrants by providing one another with resources that one shelter may not have. In this sense, the shelters of Tijuana are crucial sites of information, support, and change as they bring in volunteers and resources that can help migrants navigate the system as well as the streets of Tijuana. Above all, the most important services that a good shelter can offer is providing a space where recent arrivals and deportees can catch a break from all the pain, sorrow, and trauma they have experienced.
My last point is that many of the migrants wanted to make clear that despite coming across obstacles, dangers, and trauma while moving through Mexico, they want people in the US and Mexico to understand that they know that it isn’t all of Mexico doing this to them. One person I met said that he believed that 80% of people in Mexico and around the world are trying to help or at least support them but that there is also another 20% who put all their power into hurting others and ruining the rest of the country.
The issues that affect countries like the ones in Central America are not just social issues, but also institutional issues such as corruption in the government, censorship, and severe inequalities in education, medicine, housing and political institutions. Further adding to the inequalities are criminal syndicates that use violence as a means of controlling the territories they reside in and also use physical harm and threats to extort and forcefully recruit innocent people.
It is crucial that we understand our own positionality in regards to these issues, which means checking our privileges and using that understanding to guide the ways we support asylum seekers and refugees without bringing unnecessary or unwanted attention from groups that seek to hurt more than help. It is important to also be critical of the kinds of help people offer and ensure that we avoid bringing in groups that seek to transform communities and regions to better fit their private interests. We know very little as to what kind of revolutions and changes need to happen in these foreign countries, which is why I implore anyone to consider this: instead of attempting to go to other countries and fix the problems yourselves, we should instead allow folks from other countries to come to us and to utilize our schools, our resources, and our communities in order for them to acquire the education, the power, and the support to then fix their own countries. With that being said I believe now is a good time to get into the stories of migration that were shared by some of the folks staying at the migrant shelters in Tijuana.
The interviewers for this project consisted of a group of undergraduates like myself as well as graduate students from UC San Diego. Before heading down to Tijuana, the group had been taking a class on how to conduct interviews, how to recruit people for interviews and on the ethics of research and interviewing. Our group stayed at the Casa Del Migrante shelter for a week while in Tijuana and then some of us would go to other shelters across Tijuana where we would spend the majority of the day building trusts with the migrants at these shelters. We spent time helping out at the shelters and doing volunteer work such as helping out with food drives.
The research began around early January and interviews were conducted from January to March of the year 2020. I would frequently go to the shelters every other Friday for about 5-7 weeks and I would spend about 4-6 hours at the shelters volunteering, participating in events the shelter would put on and getting to know the migrants and their stories. I would also conduct interviews with them about their experiences migrating North, experiences from back home, events that led them to flee their homes, and even hearing about the conditions and mistreatment that they suffered while in “La Hielera” (The immigrant detention centers in the USA)
I utilized a set of pre made questions to spark up conversations and talking points, but for the majority of the interviews, I would allow the interviewees to guide me through their stories. Through utilizing an open ended form of interview I was able to record one hour interviews with each of the participants and then I would follow up with some post interview questions, mainly asking about demographics, deportation and where they are in the asylum process.
For the writing portion l went over my own interviews as well as the interviews of my classmates. I focused primarily on the stories of four Central Americans and drew from their stories and experiences to provide accounts and evidence of the dangers they faced in their home nations as well as throughout the journey North through Mexico and of their traumatic experience while being detained in USA detention centers.
The Migration Paradox
Part 1: The Beginning- Threats, Beatings, Sexual & Physical Abuse, and Extortions
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. These are the three nations that make up the tri country region known as the Northern Triangle of Central America. For people who are not familiar with where Central America is located, it is the stretch of land that connects North and South America; this region reaches the northern tip of Colombia in South America and extends all the way to the Southern tip of Mexico.
The countries of Central America are beautiful tropical lands and the people who live in these countries are blessed with some of the greenest mountains and villages as well as the warmest ocean waters on the beaches. The culture and the food will immerse you and warm you up as you take in the sights of the country. Moving into the cities you can see how similar they are to other cities across the world. Cities in Central America are metropolitan sites filled with stores and shopping centers; on a regular day you may see people and tourists going out to their jobs, school or on their way to enjoy some leisure. Everything looks calm and peaceful, however that would just be looking at the surface of the country as in places like El Salvador, a more grim reality slumbers. Underneath the facade of normal life, the country and its citizens live their lives as normally as they can, they go about their business and take care of their families but then all of that can be changed and even taken away the moment they become targets and prey to some of the most dangerous and evil crime syndicates in the world, known as the Maras.
These groups began forming in the 1980’s within the United States. During this period in the USA, a group known, as La Mara Salvatrucha would begin to form out of a need to build a community to support one another from the racism and xenophobia they were receiving. When the USA began deporting members of the Maras back to Central America the members of this group began to grow and spread their influence across the Central American nations and eventually even outside of the Northern Triangle region. Because countries in Central America such as El Salvador were just coming out of a civil war that saw periods of reconstruction as well as a shift in political power, we begin to see the Maras inserting themselves in civic spaces and even infiltrating into positions of authority and of power over time.
In the case of El Salvador, one issue that led to the rise of the Maras in power was constant streaks of indecisive action. What I mean is that when the Maras began to terrorize the citizens of El Salvador at increasing rates, the leaders of the country at the time were not taking the necessary actions to condemn and put a stop to this crime syndicate instead as some of the migrants tell me, one president was even making deals with the Maras as a method for bringing peace and compromise without the need of fighting. Instead of alleviating the violence brought on by members of the Maras, this came with the pure negative outcome of normalizing the group to the country and in some cases even providing them with the platform to advertise themselves. The indecisive actions by the government and its people in power in El Salvador has thus given way for the Maras to insert themselves into the country’s civic life and therefore has allowed this crime syndicate to exercise whatever actions and control they want with limited consequences.
Instead of the Maras being persecuted, it is the average citizen that is forced to live in persecution and in fear for the safety of their own lives and of the people around them. There is no doubt in my mind that the Maras truly present one of the most dangerous situations for people living in El Salvador and Central America and this is an organization that needs to be held accountable for all the trauma and pain they have caused and need to be stopped.
The Maras of El Salvador have hurt innocent people, they have forced people to flee and separate themselves from their loved ones, families, and of their future in their home country. These are the stories of refugees and asylum seekers that were victims to the extreme violence brought on by the Maras.
a) Extortion: This is where the problems with the Maras begin for some people. In cases where people fled their country because of extortion it usually begins with the Maras taking away an individuals money and eventually their savings, leaving the person with nothing to pay the extortion fees. When a person cannot continue to pay the monthly quota they become victims to physical abuse and torment. The unfortunate part is that the victims often do not have many options for getting away from the Maras as these groups often control various regions in the city and their networks are often wide spread and unknown. One thing that you will hear USA immigration court judges ask individuals seeking asylum due to threats from the Maras is “Why don’t you just move to a different part of the country?” but as you will find out, just moving to a new region in their country can bring even more problems.
In the case of one asylum seeker that I met at the Espacio Migrante named B, his unfortunate encounter with the Maras began when he was an adult. When I met B, I never could have imagined that he had been a victim of the Maras back in his home country because he was a really upbeat charismatic individual, but this just goes to prove how anyone can become a victim, its just a matter of chance as he says. His experience with encountering the Maras begins as it begins for many, with a member of a Mara walking up to him in his home and telling him
“De que yo vivía en una colonia, dónde viene la pandilla 18 y en la colonia, donde yo trabajaba era de MS. Entonces que tenía que pagar una renta de $50 mensuales”. (That I lived in a neighborhood, where the 18 gang comes from, and in the neighborhood where I worked was MS. So you had to pay a rent of $50 a month.)B, El Salvador
What B had said was that when the member of the Mara approached him he explained to B that because he lives and works in areas controlled by opposing Mara groups he is therefore in violation of their rules and must now pay a monthly quota in order to avoid being murdered by the Maras where he lives.
“Pues qué les digo… me cayó la noticia bien pesada… Yo sabia que había mucha gente que corría con esa mala suerte de que tenía que pagar por su vida, por su vida, tenía que pagar porque si no pagas ese ese ese ese dinero que ellos exigen te matan”. (Well can I tell you… the news hit me heavily… I knew that there was a lot of people who ran with this bad luck that they had to pay for their life, for their life, they had to pay because if you do not pay that that that that money that they are demanding will kill you)B, El Salvador
B then explains to us that he understood that many people in his country fall victims to this form of violence and he says that there is almost no way to avoid it as all it takes for the Maras to prey on you is just having them notice you and decide that today you will start paying them for your life.
“En mi caso porque corrí con suerte porque sí, dentro de lo que yo ganaba, sí me salía el costo de los $50, porque tenía dos trabajos al mismo tiempo… Entonces sí me daba, entonces dije yo, pues tengo la oportunidad de pagar por mi vida. O sea mira tan feo es tener que decir eso que ya tienes una oportunidad para pagar por tu vida. Eso es de palabras que más quieres, pues porque de palabras igual acciones son las acciones que ellos toman de matarte. Entonces desde el 2014 este estuve pagando mensualmente 50.” (In my case, I was lucky because yes, within what I earned, I was able to get the cost of the $50, because I had two jobs at the same time… So it gave me, so I said, well I have the opportunity to pay for my life. Look it is so ugly having to say that you have the opportunity to pay for your life. Those are words you don’t want, because words like actions are actions that they have to kill you. So since 2014, I was paying $50 a month.)B, El Salvador
B then tells us how he felt lucky that because he was working two jobs in professional fields, he therefore had enough money each month to pay for his life, he also tells us that as he looks back he thinks about how that is one of the most awful statements anyone has to make, “I luckily make enough money to pay for my life”. B also explains how serious these extortions and threats are and that even without contracts or the need to shake hands, the moment a member of the Mara tells you that you have to pay “la renta” that is the moment you become locked in a blood contract in which the only way out is through death.
He paid the extortion fee every month like he was forced to do, but then his life would take another turn for the worse and he tells us how:
“El 15 septiembre 2016 que fue el día de la independencia del Salvador como en México y en otras partes de Centroamérica, éste llega a mi casa un niño. Sí, un niño de aproximadamente entre 15 y 16 años con una gorra con un con un short este camisetas me recuerdo, no sé si eran unos Adidas Concha o Nike Cortez, hay un tipo de marca que hay ahí en El Salvador, se lo usas, determina que eres un pandillero porque sólo esas pandillas pueden utilizar este tipo de calzado.” (On September 15, 2016, this was the independence day for El Salvador like Mexico and in other parts of Central America, this boy arrives to my house. Yes, a boy with a with a short or shirt I remember, I don’t know if it was some Adidas or Nike Cortez, theres a type of brand that in El Salvador, if you use it, it determines that you are gang member because only if you are a gang member you can utilize that type of shoe.)B, El Salvador
He explains how a young teen around the age of 15 or 16 shows up to his house and that just from looking at the way he was dressed, sporting a cap that covered his eyes and a specific type of Nike Cortez shoes he could tell that the teen was a member of the Maras. He says that the young teen then proceeds to tell him:
“Ay, morro” me dijo así de buena. “Ay, morro. Éste tiene 72 horas para irte de tu casa.” Yo en silencio verdad en silencio…”porque?” sale mi palabra pues. Ya cuando te dicen eso nosotros ya vemos que era porque te van a matar y “por qué?: “No, porque ya sabemos que tú trabajas en un lugar donde están los contrarios, y eso ya sabes que se determina como lleva y trae. Lo feo es que al final si aceptan ellos de que toda la población civil, estamos conscientes de lo que es porque se escucha, “ya saben ustedes”, dijo, me dijo, “ya saben.” ” Ya sé yo, precisamente que por trabajar en un lugar donde están los contrarios de ellos, no podríamos estar viviendo ahí, ya saben ustedes que no pueden vivir en dónde están los contrarios.” Sí, pero yo trabajo yo trabajo, sea yo no tengo nada que ver yo soy civil ya sabes.” “No, pero tienes 72 horas.” Así que sin mediar palabra 72 horas para nosotros en en un país en ese en esa situación de violencia es el contrato de muerte.” (“Hey dude”, he said to me in a good way. “Hey dude. Well, you have 72 hours to leave your house.” I silently, truly in silence… “why”, comes out of my mouth. When they tell you this we see why they are going to kill you and “why?”: “No, because we know that you work at a place where the enemies are at, and that you you know determines how it comes and goes.” The ugly part is that at the end if they accept that all the civil population, that we are aware of because we hear it, “You all already know”, he said, he told me “You know, I already know precisely that when working at a place where their enemies are at, we could not live there, and you all know that you can not live where the enemies are at. “Yes, but I work I work, I do not have anything to do with it I am a civilian you know.” “No, but you have 72 hours.” So without saying a word, 72 hours for us in in a country in that in that situation of violence is a death contract.)B, El Salvador
The Mara tells B that because it had been discovered that he was working and living in opposing Mara territories he now has 72 hours to leave, not just his home but to leave the entire country. B says that as hard as it was to hear the news that he now has to flee his country it hurts him even more to think about what his country has become; now the Maras expect everyone to understand their rules and boundaries they have set and that unknowingly breaking them leads to inevitable consequences befalling absolutely anyone. He expresses his concern over his country and his fellow country men as the nation and its people are held as hostages by these Maras.
B is not the only person I met and spoke to who had this same experience, in fact of the people that I personally interviewed more than half of the people who were forced to leave their country stated that their problems with the Maras began with the gangs extorting them and eventually taking more violent measures against them. In the case of another person I met and spoke to whom I have given the alias of Sonrisa, she explained to me that her problems actually began when her son’s wife witnessed an assassination of the people who owned a store across the street from her son’s carpentry shop. She says that after her son’s wife reported the assassination she witnessed to the police in her area, the next day her son was met with members of a Mara demanding that he tell them the location of his wife. Because he refused to tell them anything about the whereabouts of his wife they instead decided that from that point on he would pay them a monthly extortion fee, “La Renta” so that they don’t kill him and his family. Sonrisa tells me:
“Primero empezaron pidiendo a las semanas y luego al mes pero cantidades. Ya por último pues ya que en el 2018 fue que les pidieron tres mil dólares y mi hijo solo les logró dar $2,500 cuando ellos llegaron la próxima vez a pedir el resto del dinero mi hijo les digo que el no tenia, y le exigieron que les diera cinco mil dólares. Cinco mil dólares, entonces mi hijo les digo que ya no podía, entonces le digo, “Ok, vamos a tratar de otra manera” pero a mi hijo lo golpearon varia veces cuando el no tenia dinero para dar se lo. Lo golpearon y entonces fue como el hasta pidió presta para pagar las cuotas que ellos querían y cuando ellos querían llegaban a pedir comida o la colaboración que ellos querían, llegaban a pedir lo a cualquier hora del día a cualquier tiempo y tenía que dársela pues, si no lo iban a matar.” (First, they started asking weekly and then monthly. And lastly, in 2018 they asked for $3,000 and my son only accomplished giving them $2,500, the next time they came to ask for the rest of the money, my son told them that he didn’t have it, and they demanded that he give $5,000. 5,000 dollars, so my son told them that couldn’t anymore, so he told them “Okay, let’s try another way”, but my son was beaten several times when he didn’t have the money to give to them. They beat him and then it was like he even borrowed to pay the fees they wanted and when they wanted they would ask for food or the collaboration they wanted, they would ask for it at any time and he had to give it to them, if not they were going to kill him.)Sonrisa, El Salvador
She said that when the gang members first started extorting her son they were doing so weekly, but eventually that changed to monthly payments and bigger sums being demanded. At one point they had raised the quota as high as “5,000 dollars” and that eventually led to her son no longer being able to pay them and so instead of taking his money they would frequently beat him and even come to his family’s home and demand food as payment.
“Entonces fue en el 2018 que mi hijo ya no aguanto. Ya no dormía él porque estaba en su casa y el tenia los hombres ahí cerca viajando lo que hacía y entonces ellos decidieron venirse, ellos llegaron como mi hijo les debía tanto, llegaron y les quitaron las herramientas le recogieron partes de los muebles y parte de los muebles se quedaron ahí. El no espero mas pues no espero que los hombres volvieran a llegar a pedir dinero porque si llegaban y él no lo tenía lo iban a matar… de ahí se fue a San Tépec donde estaba la familia. Pero allá como son pandillas contrarias donde nosotros vivíamos la pandilla era, barrio 18 y allá son la MS. Entonces a el no lo admitieron. Le dijeron a ellos que si en 24 horas no desaparecen de allá pues los iban a matar.” (So it was in 2018 that my son couldn’t take it anymore. He no longer slept because he was at home and he had the men nearby monitoring what he did and then they decided to come, they came as my son owed them so much, they came and took away the tools they picked up parts of the furniture and part of the furniture stayed there. He did not wait any longer because he did not expect the men to come back to ask for money because if they came and he did not have it they would kill him… from there he went to San Te´pec where the family was. But there as there are opposite gangs where we lived, the gang was neighborhood 18 and there they are the MS. So they didn’t admit him. they told him that if in 24 hours they don’t disappear form there, well they were going to kill them.)Sonrisa, El Salvador.
In this passage, Sonrisa tells us what eventually led to her son having to flee the country with his family and that was when he no longer had any more money to give them, the gang members began taking from his carpentry shop until they eventually left him with nothing, from there he decided that because the Maras had essentially taken everything from him at that point he decided to move to another state in El Salvador in an area where his other relatives live. But unfortunately as you heard in B’s story, the area that Sonrisa’s son had moved to in El Salvador was controlled by an opposing gang and therefore it wasn’t long before he was given the “24 hours” to leave the country or die.
The unfortunate part about her story is that the Mara that had been persecuting and tormenting her son was still looking for him and so even though she did not have anything to do with his situation, she tells us that they managed to track her down in her home on account that she was the mother,
“Llegaron una vez y llegaron otra vez y igual. A mi me golpearon me pusieron la pistola, que´r´i´an saber dónde estaba y no les decía. Me quitaron el teléfono para no decirle a mi hijo, que pasaba. Bueno yo salí de la casa, un di´a en la calle y me quitaron el teléfono se metieron a la casa, se levantó para ver si había algo de ellos en la casa, entonces ese di´a me deci´an a mi que si yo no les decía, ese di´a mi iban a matar a mi. Entonces fue así que yo decidí mejor salir de ahi en esa misma tarde y yo me fui al mismo lugar de San Te´pec porque dije que all´a estaba mi familia, pero igual lo mismo me paso, lo mismo de él, no podía estar allí para mucho tiempo”. (They came one, and they came again, and the same. They hit me and they put the gun on my, they wanted to know where he was and I wouldn’t tell them. They took my phone away and went inside my home, they wanted to see if there was anything that was theirs at the house, so that day they told me that they were going to kill me. So that was when I decided that it was best for me to leave that same day in the afternoon and so I left to the San Te´pec which was the same place that I had said my family was at, but the same thing happened, the same thing that had happened to him, and I couldn’t be there too long either.)Sonrisa, El Salvador.
Sonrisa tells us of her experience with the Maras, she says that they started to come to her home frequently and that whenever they would come they would beat her and hold her at gun point, demanding her to tell them where her son had gone. She says she refused to tell them anything and that they even took away her phone so that she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone or her son about what was happening. When she wouldn’t give them the information they wanted about her son’s whereabouts they the told her that if she doesn’t leave then they will kill her in the afternoon and so that same day they threatened her life she left to the same city in El Salvador that her son tried to move to only to be met with the same issue in which she had to leave the country entirely.
After her and her first son fled the country, the gang that was trying to find them did not stop there and now in Tijuana, she still has to deal with the burden of worrying for her other son’s life as he also has found himself in the same situation she found herself in that the son is being tormented by the Maras. One point that Sonrisa makes in her interview is that the Maras do not discriminate, they will show the same level of cruelty and torment to anybody in the country including, children, women, teachers, police officers and even their own members.
In my time going through the interviews conducted by the MMFRP team I came to learn that these Maras have grown to be powerful groups that are not just found in El Salvador but also in neighboring countries like Honduras. Whereas in the past years people who were fleeing El Salvador would have been able to find some refuge in Honduras today that option is no longer a viable one as the Maras in Honduras also show the same level of threats to refugees as they do in El Salvador. Given that member of Maras will even go as far as to try and track down a person who was forced to flee even across borders it is crucial that we understand how far the reach and extent of the Maras control and presence stretches even far beyond a person’s country or even the neighboring countries, now the Maras will even follow their victims as far up as to Tijuana.
As you will come to see in the next stories, the Maras have become a lot more powerful than what we in the United States can imagine, this is not a small scale gang that terrorizes people in the rural areas of the country, instead the Maras are an organized crime syndicate and their control and terror over countries like El Salvador and Honduras are so strong so dangerous that even the police themselves are often powerless to fight them.
Part 2: The Institutional negligence and the Need for stronger and equitable education
As I mentioned in the very beginning, one of the reasons why the Country of El Salvador has not been able to put an end to the Maras is due to corruption in the government as well as the negligence on the part of the government in finding effective solutions for helping the country get out of its economic and social turmoil. As I have come to understand, the main problem forcing people to flee Central America is the violence they experience at the hands of the Maras, however it is very crucial that we also look at how the institutions in El Salvador have also contributed to this chaos by not putting in the necessary attention and resources in their educational institutions and instead creating a very unequal gap in education. Apart from that, it is the corruption that has seeped into the police force of El Salvador that needs to be checked as it is absolutely unbelievable to hear in the stories of asylum seekers that when they went to go ask for help or protection from the Maras, the police would always just say to them that there is nothing they can do except for helping them find passage out of the country.
Lately I have been hearing about how the new Salvadoran president is currently working on fixing the institutions that have been abandoned and neglected in El Salvador and many migrants who were forced to flee their countries are putting a lot of their faith in this new president and they are hoping that he could at least equip the country’s military force so that they may properly deal with the Maras. However, I believe that the real changes to this country will need more work than just incarcerating members of Maras, in order for the country to rise and become a better and safer place for Salvadorans and foreign arrivals, the country needs to focus on education and on putting more emphasis in their youth. The following stories by asylum seekers and migrants serve as an analysis of how the problems in El Salvador came to be. These stories will look at how the lack of institutional accountability and the sentiments of “broken youth” come to play vital roles in the corruption of institutions and the rise of the Maras as an untouchable syndicate.
I will start of with by introducing a very frequent phrase that I couldn’t help but notice being repeated by several of the Salvadoran interviewees:
“En mi país, ser joven es un delito” (Being young in my country is a crime)M, El Salvador
Not in the literal sense of course, but yet for many people who grew up in El Salvador being young comes with very different circumstances. The main one being that as a youth in El Salvador one is much more vulnerable to being the victim of abuse at the hands of the Maras. One thing that I came to understand about El Salvador is that many of the older generation folks whom I interviewed were not able to obtain a formal education that went beyond high school. For many going to school was more of a luxury and a privilege than it was a requirement and if you wanted to attend school you would have had to make enough money to attend school beyond just elementary. As Sonrisa tells me,
“Era bastante difícil porque, bueno lo primero mis padres eran muy pobres económicamente. Bueno eso era una parte lo segundo era que, pues sí era bastante difícil porque antes se pagaba por todo y se pagaba mucho pues mucho, una cuota poco alta y tal vez no tanto pero como le repito éramos bastante pobres. ” (It was quite difficult because, well first of all my parents were very poor financially. Well, that was part of it. The second thing was that, it was quite difficult because back then you were paid for everything and you paid a lot, a lot, a high fee and maybe not so much, but as I repeat, we were quite poor.)Sonrisa, El Salvador
Sonrisa explains that in her case it was very difficult for her to go to school because at that time she would have had to pay for everything, including entry into the school, her books and pencils, so therefore going to school also forced her to work and make money of her own so that she can help support her family. When I asked her if her experience was common among other people in her population she tells me yes,
“Sí, era común muchas personas de mi edad que conozco o tal vez más mayores o menos que no estudiaron, no había una posibilidad como ahora que le dan un estudio grande que hay beca. Antes no era así, antes era, como les digo, un poco más difícil porque antes se tenía que pagar todo, no es como ahora que hoy les dan cuadernos y lápices y hay mucha ayuda para los niños que van a empezar escuela y antes nada. Antes para decir pues ni kinder había ósea de una vez ya iba uno al primer grado, y era así pues. Muy difícil.” ( Yes, it was common for many people my age that I know or maybe even older or younger who did not study, there was no possibility like there is today with a large education and scholarships. Before it was not like that, like I mentioned, it was more difficult because before you would need to pay for everything, it wasn’t like today where they give you notebooks and pencils and there is a lot of help for the children that are going to start school. Before, to say the least there wasn’t even kindergarten, you would start 1st grade and it was like that. Very difficult.)Sonrisa, El Salvador
She explains how this was actually common for many people in her generation to not have received very much formal education, but that now she has noticed that there have been improvements, that unlike before now students are able to receive financial aid to help them pay for school and school supplies.
I wanted to highlight Sonrisa’s words not to demonstrate a deficit, but to potentially provide some kind of reasoning that could explain the path El Salvador has been on in order to make sense of how the country became corrupted and ran by Maras. What I learned from Sonrisa is that without a formal education most of the people whom she knew could do work in jobs that required technical skills and artistry, however when it came to jobs in government, I hardly heard any of the migrants talk about knowing someone who worked in these institutions.
When the civil war of El Salvador concluded, a new party took power and this party was known as the FMNL. The party had comprised of guerilla fighters and young people who fought in the civil war to bring about equality, protection, and representation to folks living in rural communities in El Salvador, however during the years following the civil war many of the changes that the party had promised its people were not being met and instead what seemed to come out of the conflict was corruption and new people in power.
It might be fair to say that perhaps the new party in power was just unfit to bring the country up after a civil war however it might also apply that perhaps the new people in power became greedy and comfortable and instead of helping the rest of the country build up they decided to focus on private interests. Either way, it is safe to say that conditions in El Salvador had not improved as how the people thought it would and instead newer more difficult problems began to arise.
The person who was able to point out a lot of the institutional problems that plague El Salvador was a man I interviewed in the Espacio Migrante. I really enjoyed talking to this man who I have given the alias of Cibernetico, because when he discussed the issues that he believes have brought upon financial insecurities and inequalities he would also discuss solutions and analyses on how the country can improve. Cibernetico tells me that his story of migration began because:
“In that time I preferred to move here to Mexico because the economic situation in my country go down. I studied systems, I repaired computers, laptops. But the gangs in El Salvador are dangerous. They’ll rob you. They’ll go to your business and they’ll take your money, so I can’t work there, and a friend told me three years ago a friend told me that she has a friend in Mexico and she asked me if I would like to move to or to travel to Mexico, and I said yes. So three years ago I moved to Ciudad Hidalgo. I lived there, three years”Cibernetico, El Salvador
Cibernetico’s story of migration differed from the other people I had interviewed in that he was not forced to pay an extortion fee and he didn’t mention anything about his family being harassed by Maras, however what he did provide me was an understanding of how the institutions in El Salvador are failing to protect its citizens and its workers. He began to talk about how the one of the biggest problems affecting El Salvador and its citizens is inequalities and how inequalities in education has led to more inequalities in the country such as in its workforce, politics, medical and more,
“En El Salvador un problema que hay es un problema social, que se llama desigualdad. Todo la parte social del país radica en la desigualdad; desigualdad política, desigualdad social, desigualdad médica, verdad desigualdad laboral es desigualdad que hay en mi país. Es la parte medular que tiene mi país en mala condiciones. Entonces también en mi país existe la discriminación, verdad. Por que si tu tienes treinta años ya no eres candidato para un trabajo y eso no debe ser así porque tamb´ien como alguien de setenta años puede trabajar muy bien como alguien menor.” (In El Salvador, there is a problem, that is a social problem, which is called inequality. The whole social part of the country lies in equality: political inequality, social inequality, medical inequality, indeed labor inequality is inequality that exists in my country. It is the core part that my country has in bad conditions. So in my country there is also discrimination, right. Because if you are thirty years old you are no longer a candidate for a a job and it shouldn’t be this way because even someone who is 70 years old can work just as good as someone who is younger.)Cibernetico, El Salvador
He mentions that apart from the inequalities the country faces, there is also an issue with age discrimination. He further explains that part of the struggle with finding work in El Salvador comes from the fact that many youth are now discriminating adults as young as in there mid 30’s. Although he didn’t explain why young people display discriminatory attitudes towards older generations I can assume that it has something to do in response to the phrase I mentioned at the beginning of this section,
“Being young in my country is a crime”.Cibernetico, El Salvador
He tells me how the institution that has been most forgotten about in his country is education and that because of the governments lack of interest in creating a newer, stronger, and safer schools many youths feel as though there is not much they can do in their society, they feel forgotten about, even abandoned,
“La parte educativa de mi país es la parte más aislada que han tenido. Para empezar ahorita hay un problema social que se llaman maras. Las maras tienen todas las escuelas en mi país entonces ellos dominan las escuelas. Entonces para radicar eso, primero hay que comenzar con la parte educativa, como les repito pero para eso hay capacitar a los profesores. Dar les y brindarles todos los recursos necesarios pero hay profesores que dan clases a cuatro harias diferentes, primaria, secundaria, y por último si es posible el bachillerato y a todo los alumnos los tienen congregado en un solo salón.” (The educational part of my country is the most isolated part that they have ever had. For starters, right now there is a social problem called marras. The ganges have all the schools in my country, so they dominated the schools. So to eradicate that, first we need to start with the educational part, as I have mentioned, but to do this we need to train the teachers. Give them and provide them all the necessary resources, but there are teachers who teach four different grade levels, primary, secondary, and lastly if possible the baccalaureate and they have all the students gathered in a single room.)Cibernetico, El Salvador
In this passage, cibernetico talks about the connection between Maras and the poor education they get, he talks about how their schools don’t have the proper resources or appropriate class sizes to help out every student, in fact he even mentions that in various schools there are classes where the teacher will be giving instructions to several grade levels and that students of varying grade levels are put in the same room with the same instructor.
This is clearly a huge issue, and as he points out the problems in schools have become much more difficult to address as the Maras use schools as sites where they can recruit young children. He says,
“Entonces ahorita por hoy estoy haciendo bien sincero mientras que eso no se supera en mi país no se va avansar. Osea no va avanzar mi país pues porque los profesores son los últimos que los han tenido relegados, de hecho hoy los están matando.” (So right now, as of today, I am being very sincere when I say that as long as my country does not overcome this, it will not advance. In other words, my country is not going to advance because the teachers are the last to be paid attention to, in fact they are killing them today.)Cibernetico, El Salvador
That unless the education institutions in the country get the attention and help they need, the problems of the country will persist and that now the situation in schools has become even more grave as professors and teachers run the risk of being extorted or even murdered by Maras.
Even if you’re just a regular kid trying to go to school you can’t even feel safe in these sites. In an interview I found conducted by one of my peers with a migrant who is from El Salvador, I found out that part of the reason she fled El Salvador with her family was because where her son would go to school he was being harassed and even tormented by gang members, even going as far as to trying to convince the boy to turn in one of his friends to their gang. Of course he refused and so when he did, the gang members began to abuse him, she says
“Donde estudiaba mi hijo lo amenazaban por que quería que entregara a un compañero de él. Mi hijo no podía pues era su compañero. Lo amenazaban mucho, lo iban a buscar en la escuela” (My son was being threatened where he studied because they wanted him to hand over a classmate of his. My son could not because it was his classmate. They threatened him a lot, they would go looking for him at the school.)M, El Salvador
It is heartbreaking to think that even in schools, children in El Salvador still have to face the threats of the Maras. This group clearly has no boundaries as to where they operate and what’s more it seems as though no one can stop them and so they just keep recruiting and tormenting young kids.
In another interview with a migrant from El Salvador he mentions how,
“Desde los penales están reclutando a menores en las escuelas. En mi país hay mucho donde no hay tanta importancia en la niñez, entonces la delincuencia si la aprovecha. Yo andando repartiendo pan salió un niñito como de 9 años con una escopeta a preguntarme de donde era… Imagínate un niño de 9 años, si hay mucho que pensar. Con el presidente que tenemos esperemos que las cosas cambien.” (Even from prison they are recruiting minors in schools. In my country there is not so much importance in childhood, so crime does take advantage of this. While walking around distributing bread, a 9-year-old came out with a shotgun to ask me where I was from… Imagine a 9-year-old boy, theres a lot to think about there. With the president we have, let’s hope that things change.)A, El Salvador
What A talks about in this passage is that he believes that his country has forgotten about its youth, that the youth have been neglected and therefore they become much more vulnerable to recruitment into Maras. In one example, A even talks about an experience he had in which he was delivering bread for his work when he came across a young boy perhaps the age of 9 holding a real gun and that he remembers and still cannot believe the sight of a young child holding a gun and asking him, “where he was from”.
Its clear that schools have become sites where new Maras are made, which is a really grim reality. However, that is why it is important to acknowledge what institutions hold the power to fight against the Maras, the oppression, and the inequalities. What needs to happen is that the government needs to take action and return control back to these institutions and stop allowing the Maras to exercise their control over these vital institutions.
Part 3: The Vertical Wall and the Migration Paradox
The Migration paradox is that as migrants take the journey North through Mexico the journey sets them up in an endless cycle where no matter how many times they try and flee danger and threats to their lives they never truly get away as danger and trauma follows them.
The options that migrants have for finding safety abroad are very limited and many migrants have found themselves stuck in Tijuana without many options for moving forward to the USA or being granted asylum in Mexico. Without the proper documents and legal status, migrants have also found themselves struggling to find good paying work while in Mexico and so a huge responsibility has fallen on migrant shelters to work hard and fast towards helping migrants find work and navigate Mexico. Being deported back to their country of origin might as well be the nail on the coffin for migrants who had to leave due to serious threats of death as their reappearance in their country of origin can lead to serious injuries and even deaths befalling on not just the individual but also the individuals family and close relatives. This is the Migration Paradox; it is a cruel repeating cycle that has claimed the lives of thousands of migrants.
The other part of this section, “The Vertical Wall” refers to the country of Mexico as being one long obstacle for migrants to climb. Whereas the United States has a horizontal wall, Mexico does not have an actual physical wall but instead the country has set routes where their National Guard will capture migrants who cross, while the roads that undocumented migrants take to avoid the authorities go through sections of Mexico where not even the police go to due to high criminal activities, cartel territories, and even through hot scorching deserts. Of the common routes that migrants take up through Mexico, non-are more dangerous than the train known as “La Bestia”. In these next stories you will read about the dangers that face migrants as they try and move up through Mexico.
During my time conducting interviews in Tijuana, I always dreaded asking folks if they could recall their experience moving up through Mexico as hearing the stories of how people get killed while riding on La Bestia or how the group known as Los Zetas kidnaps migrants and shoots them, or how the Mexican Cartels steal children’s organs, it all comes together to form one of the most scariest and traumatic experiences. Yet during my interviews I was surprised to see the interviewees refuse to not talk about what they witnessed and what they experienced while traveling North, the stories they share tell about the very grim side of Mexico that is often hidden away from us and so therefore I want to honor their courage, their sacrifices most importantly their trust by sharing the story of one migrant who told it all.
The story you are going to read in this section comes from a person I interviewed, I will refer to her by the pseudonym “Miracles” because based on the story she told us, it truly is a miracle that any migrant can get to Tijuana alive.
Miracles arrived to Tijuana not very long from when I met her, it was her and her daughter whom had migrated to Tijuana from Honduras in an effort to get asylum in the United States. When we started the interview with Miracles, she mentions this line,
“No es lo mismo de que to oigas a que tu lo vivas.” (It is not the same to hear about it as it is for you to live it.)Miracles, Honduras
Perhaps the moments and experiences that she went through that most ring true to this line come from her traveling on “La Bestia”, being kidnapped by cartels, and traveling through the Sonoran desert on foot.
Before she even touches on these moments she tells us what it is like to travel through Mexico as just women. She mentions how crucial it is for migrants going through Mexico to join groups of trustworthy people and how on her journey she felt fortunate to have travelled through parts of Mexico with men and people that looked out for each other, she says
“Te vas haciendo grupos y te vas haciendo de personas de amistades, tu cuidas a otro y tu me cuidas, tú tienes hambre y yo te ayudo y tu me ayudas. Pero algunos no. Unos dicen, “no pues alla´ a la vuelta nos esperan, venderme, y la vamos a violar y la vamos al resto”. (You become groups and you become friends, you take care of one another, you are hungry and I help you and you help me. But, some don’t. Some say “well wait for us around the corner, sell them, and we are going to rape her and then finish off.)Miracles, Honduras
She talks briefly about the dangers of travelling in Caravans as within those large masses of people can sometime be shady characters who probably joined the group in an effort to hurt someone they are after or to violate some of the most vulnerable women. She talks about how she was told by some of the migrants that in order to avoid men and violators she and her daughter need to dress in more looser clothing in order to make it seem as though they are two men travelling instead of two girls,
“Pon atrás tu hija de nosotros, nunca pongas a tu hija con ropa apretada, siempre póngale ropa floja que no se veía pues una nin´a, ponle gorra, ponle para que se veía más hombre que mujer”. (Put your daughter behind us, never put your daughter in tight clothes, always put loose clothing on her so that she doesn’t look like a girl, put a cap on her, put that so that she looks more like a male than a female.)Miracles, Honduras
Later on in her journey she talks about one experience she had on the train in which she almost lost her daughter. She tells as that as she was getting on the train to travel North she remembers hearing someone mention that along this track people have been getting robbed and assaulted, she says she wasnt sure whether to believe them or disregard them as rumors but that she still hopped onto the train with her daughter. As she rode on La Bestia she tells us about the experience she had when the train got robbed, she says
“En una ocasión más adelante estaban asaltando el tren se oía la voz, como te dije “oye no pases por esa esquina porque ahí están asaltando” tu no sabes si es verdad pero si tu cruzas vas a ver que es verdad que van asaltar y si unos hombres asi´ mira, como te digo, solo se ve esto (gestures to demonstrate that the train assaulters wore masks that covered their entire face expect for their eyes) todo esto de aquí tapados y solo sus ojos y se acercan y me da pánico.” (On a later occasion, they were assaulting on the train, and you could her the voice, as I said to you “listen, do not pass by the corner because they are assaulting there” you do not know if it is true but if you cross by there you are going to find out that it is true and they are going to assault you and if some men, look, like I told you, if you only see this(gestures to demonstrate that the train assaulters wore masks that covered their entire face expect for their eyes) and all this is covered and its just their eyes and they get close to you, I panic.)Miracles, Honduras
She talks about how when the train she was on was being boarded by people dressed in all black she went with her motherly instinct and decided to try and hide her daughter under some bags that had been left on the train and that after she hid her child she found herself face to face with one of the people assaulting the train and the people on it and she tells me that all she can see from the person were his eyes.
She talks about how at one point she even overheard one of the assailants say out loud that they know there are women in the train, which signaled grave danger for her and her daughter. As she tried to hide her daughter from the assailants she recalls the feelings of terror that overwhelmed her, expressing that it felt like almost an eternity had passed since they started assaulting people on the train. When she attempted to check on her daughter she had one of the most scariest experiences as she though that her daughter had passed away from suffocation due to being buried underneath bags.
“Paso como 15 minutos yo creo y mi hija la veo así como que está dormida y no me pareció porque acababa de estar conmigo hablando me acababa de decir “mama me esta dando sueño” y cuando yo la toco, “hija, hija estas dormida hija?” y no responde. Y la toco, no respiraba. Le movía su mano, su cuerpo aguado y pedía auxilio, pedía auxilio y la saque y en eso iba pasando otra muchacha que estaba arriba y le hacia así (gesturing to come help) ayuda´me, “están asaltando el tren”. Osea cada quien tiene que correr por su vida, “ayúdame” y el vino y me dijo “que tiene?”, “mi hija”. Entonces se bajó porque no se escucha, bajo me ayudó sacarla y empezó a pedir auxilio y dijo “espera´me ya vengo” y yo con mi niña y ya empe´ze a darle aire de boca a boca, apretar su pecho y empezar hacer eso porque yo ha visto en los primeros auxilios. Ahi reacciono.” (15 minutes had passed I believe, and I see my daughter kind of asleep and it didn’t make sense because she was just talking to me and she had just said “mom, I kind of want to sleep” and then when I touched her, “daughter, daughter are you asleep daughter?” and she doesn’t answer. I toucher her and she wasn’t breathing. I moved her hand, her body was weak and asking for help and so I took her out and in that moment there was another lady who was passing by at the top and so I did this (gesturing to come help), help, “they are assaulting in the train.” So basically everyone has to run for their life, “help” and so someone came and said “whats the matter?” “my daughter.” So he came down because he heard. He came down and helped me get her out and he started asking for help and he said “wait I will be right back” and I was with my daughter and I started giving her mouth to mouth, I pushed down on her chest and I did that because I had seen CPR done before. That is when she began to react again.”Miracles, Honduras
She details every second of this moment in which she desperately calls for someone to help revive her daughter all while people are running away and while the train continues to be assaulted and she says that she began to perform CPR as she had seen on TV and that after a while her daughter finally woke back up.
Part 4: The ICE Box and the Southern Border Wall
Despite all the trauma and struggles that migrants face trying to cross through Mexico and having to flee their homes, perhaps the most cruel actions come from the part of the USA, Immigration court judges and ICE. After going through so much to cross through Mexico alive and after going days, weeks, months not knowing if you could ever return home the one thing any person deserves after all this is safety, support, care, professional and medical attention and overall respect to these individuals for what they have been through and what they have suffered through. Yet when migrants finally arrive to the USA-Mexico border they arrive and face the grim reality that even after traveling miles on foot through harsh terrains and pushing through some of the most inhumane conditions and experiences it is truly heartbreaking to think that the last obstacle they face is also one of the most cruel and most difficult ones to overcome. The USA and its detention centers needs to be exposed for what it truly is, it is a prison for migrants. In the detention centers, migrants don’t receive care, they don’t receive nutrition, and they don’t receive the respect and treatment that they deserve instead what they receive is abuse and negligence.
The first form of abuse comes in regards to nutrition. Just giving people food is not considered nutritious and in the case of folks in La Hieleras (The spanish nickname for the US detention centers) multiple sources expressed how the only food they were ever given; breakfast, lunch, and dinner; everyday of the week were bean burritos, salty crackers, and some kind of juice. One migrant who had been in the hieleras mentions how
“Nos daban 3 veces el día. Pero igual, no es malo porque es comida, pero no es una comida que pueda uno estar bien. Acuerda que hay, al menos de donde yo vengo que puedo comer cualquier cosa. Pero un vietnamitas unos veces son…vegetarianas…entonces ellos tienen una dieta muy distinta. He debido a eso se enfermo en el estómago…y le dio un dolor muy fuerte. Yo llame por ayuda, a una mujer que estaba pasando por ahí, y entró gritando. Y yo le dije que era lo que quería…y me dijo… “no que diga el, porque el es lo que siente, ustedes no se metan” no permitió que nos ayudaramos” ( They gave us food 3 times a day. But still, it is not bad because it is food, but it is not food that one can be well off with. Remember that there is, at least where I come from where I can eat anything. But vietnamese people sometimes they are… vegetarian… so they have a different diet. Because of that someone got stomach sick… and it gave him a very bad pain. I called for help as a women was passing by, and she entered screaming. And I told her what I needed from her… and she told me ” It is not what you say, he is the one that is feeling it, don’t get involved in whats not your business” they didn’t allow us to help one another.)N, El Salvador
N mentions that he understand that it is a good thing that they at least give them food at least three times a day but he states that it wasn’t food that would give people the proper nutrients they need, he even recalls an incident in which a Vietnamese migrant got very sick from eating the food and that when he called out for help, he remembers how one of the guards came in yelling at them and refused to hear what he had to say because she wanted to hear the Vietnamese man say it himself. This is clearly an act of violence and prejudice that the guard displays as someone was on the floor suffering with a stomach flu and instead of calling for medical help or trying to find the man some help, she instead opted to intimidate the migrants and neglect that this man needed immediate attention.
The second form of abuse comes in the form of physical abuse. N, our interviewee with the inside look of the Hieleras tells us how upon arriving at the just to the Chula Vista station he was seperated from his travelling companion and that during their time separated one of the officers began to yell at him, trying to intimidate him into apparently saying things that N feels he would have used against him in court, he says
“Al llegar a la estación Chula Vista… este lo primero que hicieron fue separarnos, a mi me dejaron con un federal de México, a mi suegro con otro oficial. El que…creo que era Mexicano, porque no creo que fue Estadounidense, me trató de una manera mal. Obligándome a que dijera…e… cosas que yo no quería decir, como para usar en el court”. (Upon arriving at the Chula Vista station… the first thing they did was separate us, the left me with a federal from Mexico, my father-in-law with another officer. The one who… I think he was Mexican, because I don’t think he was American, he treated me in a bad way. Forcing me to say… well… things I didn’t to say, so that he could use it against me in court.)N, El Salvador
This is not the only time that N witnessed aggression and violence being committed upon migrants as he then mentions in his interview how he met people from Haiti, Vietnam and more and that they had all been beaten by border patrols,
“Eh… dentro de ese lugar, conocí Haitianos, conocí vietnamitas, conocí mucha gente. El cual, los que habían sido golpeados, por los mismos… los de Border Patrol y todo eso. Han sido golpeados, han sido … y de tanto era la presión de haber estado tanto tiempo ahí…algunos iban más de un mes encerrados” (Eh… inside that place, I met Haitians, I met Vietnamese, I met a lot of people. Which those who had been beaten, y the same… the border patrols and all that. They have been beaten, they have been… and from so much as the pressure of having been there for so long… some were locked up for more than a month.)N, El Salvador
The third form of abuse comes in the form of negligence and legal abuse and this includes U.S. immigration judges as they are the ones who have the power to decide a migrants fate and as it is many of these cases get denied by the judges and the migrants end up getting deported back to their countries. It is important to understand that it not like the court judges don’t know what happens when these migrants get deported back, there is research out there that talks about the dangers migrants face when they are deported back in fact even the migrants themselves express their fears of being deported back. In the case of Sonrisa, she even says how if she were to be deported back she has no idea what she would do as all her stuff back home had been taken and her son is still dealing with problems regarding the Maras. Sonrisa says,
“Si Dios quiere que pasemos para allá pues y si me devuelven para El Salvador pues no se que voy hacer pues. Si por un caso me llegaran a devolver a El Salvador, no puedo pensar adónde voy a ir. Aunque ahí está mi hijo, osea el lugar donde el esta tampoco esta tan bien. Por eso le digo que si Dios permite que logremos a pasar, todo está en lo que Dios quiere.” (If God wants us to go there then, and if they return me to El Salvador, I don’t know what I’m going to do. If it’s the case, and they returned me to El Salvador, I can’t even think where I would go. Even though my son is there, I mean, the place where he is is not so good either. So that is why I tell him that if God allows us to get through, everything is in what God wants.)Sonrisa, El Salvador
In another account of people fearing deportation we have this line by M who explains that her reason for settling in Tijuana comes out of her fears that the US immigration court will deport her back to El Salvador,
“Ya me quedé por que cuando llegué aquí era mucho más fácil irse para el otro lado pero mi miedo siempre fue que si me deportaron para El Salvador.” (I already stayed because when I arrived here is was much easier to go to the other side but my fear was always that they would deport me to El Salvador.)M, El Salvador
What the USA has created is down right evil, they are using laws to punish people who are victims of violence and trauma, while rewarding court judges and ICE for separating families and causing further pain and trauma to those who have suffered so much and have lost just about everything. This is the genocidal system that has been established and it is the border wall that is responsible for creating even more divisions. The border wall has been nothing more than a scar on the Earth, one that perpetuates the Migration Paradox, while hiding the USA’s secrets in regards to how they played a role in ravaging countries like El Salvador. What’s more is that the people of El Salvador have been dealing with issues of corruption and crime syndicates that terrorize its citizens and I can firmly say that if it wasn’t for that wall, we in the USA would be able to learn from Central American migrants and other migrants around the world on how we can avoid falling to corruption here.
This loop of violence affecting migrants stuck in Tijuana will not end unless change happens through the laws and courts. It is only through legal battles that this paradox can be closed, but in order to build successful cases that will defeat the preceding laws and policies that have created the loop of violence we need to have organizations cooperate and work with migrant communities in Tijuana and so the only way to maintain such a connection is through keeping the shelters in Tijuana like the Casa del Migrante and the Espacio Migrante up and running for the years to come. There are already organizations like Al Otro Lado working hard with shelters and migrants to coordinate strong cases for asylum, but since Al Otro Lado is mostly pro bono work their numbers are too thin to fully cover everyone stuck down in Tijuana and therefore, these organizations need more support, more attention, more people to help out. Closing this paradox cannot be done just through the efforts of a few groups and people; it really requires a full structured coalition to fully address any loopholes that can be exploited. This coalition requires more than just professional help, but also the help and support of the public who for years has been instilled with alienating ideals pushed by the people in power. I understand that not everyone will be willing to help, which is why I would rather see a coalition built out of people who truly are affected by this issue or whom understand that this issue is a lot bigger and grave and therefore needs to be addressed.
That is why I am calling on the communities of Chula Vista, San Diego and Tijuana to take care and help in maintaining the migrant shelters in Tijuana and in San Diego. The Southern border wall is not just an obstacle for migrants south of the border, but it also serves as a direct obstacle for all of us North of the border to get in touch with our families and our roots back home. If for however long that wall remains and the migrants arriving in Tijuana have a place to stay in (The Albergues/Shelters) then families still have a chance at reuniting and of seeing each other. But if the shelters in Tijuana fall then the situation in Tijuana will become even more grim not just for the migrants who could potentially die in the streets of Tijuana, but also for the citizens of Tijuana who will experience a very grim sight in their city as they watch a mass amount of migrants continue to suffer and fall in their streets.
Finally, part of the real justice to come in this fight against the Southern Border wall and the institutions keeping immigrants stuck in the loop of violence will come from the knowledge we acquire of how the USA had gone down to Central America during the 1980’s and instigated civil conflicts. The USA never speaks about this part of their history in school mainly because I believe they are trying to hide how their efforts to expand their power down in the southern countries only led a boom of problems that now plague these nations and force people to flee for safety.