Lucas arrived to the comedor in late May after over three months detained in La Palma, Arizona. His wife and children are on the East Coast pursuing their asylum claims there, but Lucas was sent to detention instead. He was so afraid of contracting the virus that he elected to stop fighting a deportation order, even though he is very afraid of the threat of violence in Mexico. However, he estimated that he was more likely to survive in Mexico instead of detention. He hopes above all to see his family once again.
Lucas arrived in Nogales on May 29 after nearly four months in the La Palma Detention Center. He hopes that in sharing his story, he can help bring light to some of the realities at the border—such as ongoing family separation—as well as the conditions in La Palma.
In late 2019, Lucas, his wife, and their two children (a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son) arrived at the US-Mexico border to seek asylum after fleeing gang violence and organized crime in Guerrero, Mexico. They waited on the Mexican side of the border for several months before being called for processing by U.S. agents in February of 2020. During that time, Lucas was separated from the rest of his family, but was promised multiple times by multiple agents that he would ultimately be allowed to remain with them. His wife and two children were released to their sponsors in North Carolina, where the three of them are currently living with Lucas’ father-in-law. Lucas, however, was taken to the La Palma center in Eloy, a facility that holds over 1,000 male detainees.
The coronavirus came to the facility not long after Lucas was taken to La Palma. At that point, Lucas began advocating for his release—both because of the promises he was made at the port of entry as well as his underlying medical conditions (he has diabetes). He asked both the U.S. and Mexican governments to release him under parole and with an ankle bracelet. He submitted multiple requests over the course of two months, but never got a response. As he waited, he was subject to and observed multiple instances of abuse by the guards towards detainees. Once, Lucas asked for medical attention due to complications of diabetes—he realized that his blood sugar levels had gotten to a dangerous level because of how much he was shaking—and he was denied that coverage. The guards yelled at him that he couldn’t ask for such things because, as Lucas said, “you’re nobody, you have no rights.”
By late May, Lucas said that he was aware of at least 150 positive coronavirus cases in the facility. He describes living with the constant fear of contracting the virus, of dying from the virus, and being subjected to extraordinarily difficult conditions that he calls “a hellscape.” Of the multiple levels of struggle, Lucas said, “I would tell people—Mexicans, people from Latin America, everywhere—to know that when you get [to the border], you stop being able to decide anything. They separate you from your family. They decide everything for you—if you go to Florence, if you go to Eloy, if you go to Texas. To all Mexicans and others, this suffering is incredible. I myself am suffering, from being here and from being away from my family.”
Once people in the facility contracted the virus, Lucas said they were taken away and isolated from others. However, for the entirety of their time in isolation, they remained in five-point restraints. For those who had not tested positive for the virus, they were in their normal cell for 22 hours a day, and their food was brought to them through a hatch in the door. For only two hours a day were they allowed to leave their cell, in shifts, to shower and communicate with their families.
In response to the fear and the conditions that people in La Palma were living under, Lucas and multiple other detainees organized a hunger strike. For two weeks, they refused to eat, with the goal of winning parole or voluntary release. The guards mocked the strike, and threatened to force-feed them by prying their mouths open.
Lucas went before a judge for a scheduled court date in late May, and once again asked for parole, which he was denied. He then asked for release and an ankle monitor, which was also denied. The judge offered him deportation instead. Lucas decided to give up his asylum claim because he was so certain he would ultimately die of the coronavirus if he remained in the facility. This happened on May 28, and by May 29 he had been returned to Nogales. Lucas reflects, “I spent months waiting for a response to my parole, and nothing came. Then, when I asked for a deportation, they did it in less than 24 hours.”
Lucas’ family is distraught that he is back in Mexico, particularly his 7-year-old, who hasn’t been able to sleep since she learned the news. In order to remain together, the family is considering abandoning their asylum claim, as well. They fear for their safety in Mexico.
While Lucas figures out his next steps and waits for his family to make their decision about what they will do around their asylum claim, he is committed to speaking out about the realities on the border and at the detention center. He has contacted the media to share his story, and his message to them—and to the U.S citizens, the U.S government. and the Mexican government—is “Help people. Do more. Do everything you can to get people out. There are people dying in there, there are people sick in there, and there are people terrified in there.”