Mauricio decided to leave his hometown in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, in search of economic opportunity. As with many towns, Covid-19 and the hurricanes last year had decimated the local economy. People all around him were struggling to survive, let alone make ends meet. Eventually, he decided to take his chances in the US and try to build a life there.
When he reached the Mexico side of the US – Mexico border, he was placed with a group of about thirty-five other migrants and several guides who would take them across the Sonoran Desert. The guides said that they would have to hide from migration and they gave each migrant a tortilla and a bag of Sabritas for sustenance. Mauricio carefully rationed his food, taking only a tiny bite and swig of water when he absolutely needed to.
“The first time I fainted, I told myself, ‘you have to keep going. You have to keep going.’ And so I got up and kept walking for two more hours before I fainted again,” he recalled. The second time he fainted, he woke up to a member of his party pouring a bit of water in his mouth. This act of kindness gave him the strength to keep going for a while longer. He and his companion managed to rejoin the rest of the group. The guides there claimed that another group was bringing them food and water. Mauricio was skeptical. He huddled together with the man who had poured water in his mouth, whom he trusted. They had a quick conversation about whether they thought they’d be able to make it the rest of the way across the desert, or whether they should turn themselves in. The friend was resolute; he wanted to keep going. Mauricio decided he would continue, too.
The two men stuck together. Mauricio’s new friend was older than him, and a little overweight. “He ate and drank his food and water too fast,” Mauricio noted. When he ran out of water, Mauricio gave him half of the water he had left. “I didn’t want to see him die,” he explained.
When they both ran out of water a day and a half later, they started to cry. “I told him that I didn’t have anything else to help him with,” said Mauricio, “but I told him that I would turn myself in with him if he ever wanted to stop.”
They stayed with the group, waiting for the others who would supposedly bring more food and water. The group and supplies never came. Eventually, the guides had Mauricio and others start cutting into cactuses to eat. They would cut cactuses and eat them whenever they found them from then on. Mauricio says that he truly believes the cactuses saved his life. Several more times over the coming days, the guides would promise the group that they were close to water or food. Each time, it was a lie.
People in the group started fainting. Some members of the group tried to revive them as best they could. Despite these efforts, one man died. Soon after, the group passed the bodies of three other migrants in the desert. “I saw Border Patrol agents look at the bodies, but then they just left them there. I think maybe they were the ones that put them there,” Mauricio said.
After several more hours, Mauricio’s friend fainted. Mauricio knew that he could keep going, but he decided to stay behind with him, saying, “I didn’t want him to be alone.” Mauricio didn’t want to go on without him, either. The guides were urging the group forward, leaving the people who had fainted behind. Mauricio told them that he wasn’t going any further; he was going to stay. The guides told him to wait an hour before calling for help. They didn’t want Border Patrol to detain the rest of the group when they came to pick Mauricio and his friend up. Mauricio complied. He waited, and then called for help using a cell phone he had.
By the time he and his friend were picked up, they had been in the desert for eight days. Soon after, they were deported to Nogales, Sonora. Mauricio found his way to our comedor about one month ago. He didn’t know where his friend was anymore. Now, Mauricio mostly feels grateful to be alive.
“I value my life a thousand times more than money,” he told us through tears in the comedor. “I just give thanks to God that I have my life. I am eating. I’m drinking. I’m healing.”
Last time our team spoke to him, Mauricio hadn’t decided whether or not he would try to cross again. His story and situation illustrates the cruelty of the continued US policy of “Prevention Through Deterrence,” which pushes migrants like Mauricio and his friend into remote terrain for the chance to reach the USA. We urge the Biden Administration to immediately expand legal pathways to migration as a step towards undoing Prevention Through Deterrence. One critical step will be repealing Title 42 as soon as possible. We need to give migrants options to migrate that won’t put their lives in jeopardy.