In her home country of Venezuela, “Curly,” a young professional working in communications was subject to attacks and persistent threats because of her political stance. She reached a tipping point during the night of April 25th, 2019. That night would be her last in Venezuela, arising the next morning to flee North. Making her way through South America and Mexico, she arrived at the U.S. Mexico border in Juarez, Chihuahua. Upon arrival, she presented herself at the United States port of entry to demonstrate that she was fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. However, she was told to put her name on the waiting list (metering list) and was given a number that would be called when it was her turn to present her case. More than 12,000 names were in front of her. Not knowing how long she would have to sustain herself in Juarez, she simply waited.
Curly spent over three months in Juarez, watching the list grow at a rate much faster than numbers were being called. Her situation seemed hopeless and the dangers of Juarez finally pushed her to leave to put her name on a list at another port of entry. In mid-August, she journeyed to Nogales, Sonora where she put her name on the metering list that was significantly shorter than the one in Juarez. In the nearly two months that she spent in Nogales waiting for her number to be called, she became part of the Kino family, her positivity, strength, and hope unwavering.
Finally, in October her number was called and she entered the United States where she turned herself into Customs and Border Protection to officially begin her process of seeking asylum, which began with six months in detention in Eloy, Arizona. She recounts those months in detention as “physically and spiritually fortifying moments” when she had to be disciplined in distracting herself to make the days pass more quickly, finding ways to feel purpose, praying, and remaining positive while she was challenged by limited freedom and prolonged uncertainty. She states that there should be other mechanisms for treating people “whose only fault is crossing a line.” However, because the U.S. has criminalized doing so, Curly, like many other asylum seekers, was forced to spend part of her asylum process detained until she was finally released on humanitarian parole on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID within the center. Upon her release, she went to the East Coast to live with her mother, sister, and nephew who had fled Venezuela years prior.
Her release has allowed her to reunite with her family as well as reintegrate into the larger Kino family in an unforeseen and unlikely way. While we are unable to host immersion groups in person, the week-long “trips” have gone 100% virtual during which we attempt to provide equally educational and transformative experiences. One of the immersion sessions throughout the week includes a live Zoom call with an asylum-seeker currently living in the U.S. Over the past month, Curly has shared her story and perspective with various high school groups during their virtual Immersions. She has been an invaluable resource and source of inspiration for these students seeking to understand the perspectives and complexities of migration.
Curly entered the U.S. just three months before the implementation of the Remain in Mexico policy that took effect at the Nogales port of entry in January of this year. This policy is one of several consecutive attacks on the asylum system in the U.S. that have created significant obstacles to those fleeing persecution and intending to find safety in the U.S. Those difficulties have dramatically worsened with the onset of COVID, which the current administration is using as justification to completely halt any and all access to asylum at the border. If Curly had arrived to Nogales this spring instead of the end of the summer of 2019 she would likely be in indefinite limbo and struggling to find shelter, like many who are currently in Nogales.