Before the sun rose on July 31st, 2019 Saulo was on a buswith his son, fleeing their home country of Honduras and leaving behind a wife and two daughters. In the darkness of the night, he made his way to the Guatemala-Mexico border. The Suchiate River serves as a natural divide between Guatemala and Mexico, where many migrants cross on makeshift rafts. Sitting with Saulo, he paints an image of the muddy water, the colorful murals on the Mexico side of the river, the hustle and bustle of the “business” of crossing migrants and products. “I paid 100 Guatemalan quetzales to get a spot on the raft,” he says. “And then I look out into the river and I see a woman with her pants pulled up wading across!” He throws his hands in the air and starts laughing. He loves to laugh and make others do the same. But, there are more emotions in the room than just laughter as he recollects the suffering and pain he has felt from having to leave behind his country, wife, and children.
“Soy bien llorón.” I cry easily, he says. “And every time I talk about my daughters, it’s an ocean of tears.” Saulo last saw his wife and children the night he left in 2019. While it pained him to do so, he left to save his life and attempt to build his family a safer, more stable life elsewhere. Saulo was a driver in the bustling city of San Pedro Sula where he belonged to an association of drivers, each of whom drove 16 passenger vans. This is a common form of transportation in the city because they can easily weave through heavy city traffic and narrow neighborhood streets. As a van driver, he paid monthly extortions to Mara Salvatrucha and Calle 18.
“I love my country,” says Saulo, “I feel proud to be from Honduras because Honduras is beautiful….sadly, the government has destroyed my country, destroyed the economy, and there is crime.” Saulo rattles off some startling numbers. “11 million people, 18 states, but 14 powerful families. They have privatized everything for their benefit…and they are the government.” Organized crime and a climate of violence dominate Honduras as gangs enjoy a type of untouchable immunity, aided by a largely corrupt government. Only 76% of homicide rates are even investigated. After Saulo would pay both gangs, there was hardly any money left over for living expenses. Beyond putting food on the table, the looming danger and death threats became unbearable. Varios coworkers of his were unable to pay their extortions, and when they couldn’t, he saw their bodies returned in sacks as a signal of what would come of those who dared not pay. “There is a saying in my country: ‘me pagas o plomo.’” Pay or the bullet. Saulo chose a third option: seek asylum in the U.S.
On July 31st, he stepped off the raft and onto Mexican soil. Before coming to Nogales, he and his son spent a little over seven months in Tapachula to file paperwork with the National Immigration Institute in Mexico. To make ends meet, they worked in a taco shop from 3:00 pm to 1:00 am, seven days a week earning only 150 Mexican pesos per day, just shy of $8.00 US dollars. For more than seven months, they slept on the floor of a small apartment they rented because they didn’t have enough money to buy a mattress. The very day after being granted a humanitarian visa in early March, Saulo and his son left Tapachula and headed north.
They arrived in Nogales in mid-March of 2020 with the intention of seeking asylum at the downtown Nogales port of entry. However, just days after they arrived, the borders were “closed” and asylum processing was brought to a screeching halt. Eleven months later, the border is still closed to asylum seekers, who are fighting to sustain the uncertainty, economic precarity, danger, and psychological trauma of being in Nogales with their lives on hold and no end in sight. While in Nogales, Saulo has witnessed the announcement of the Democratic nominee, a presidential campaign, an election victory, and the transition of power. But, he is still in Nogales.
Saulo heard what President Biden said during his campaign–that he would restore asylum. “If he doesn’t pull through, he is just another one of those politicians. Just a politician…” he says trailing off. Saulo, like hundreds of other asylum seekers in Nogales, continues to endure the uncertainty of knowing when their asylum claims will be heard. He has high hopes for the new president and even higher expectations. Saulo wishes he could sit in front of President Biden, saying “I would invite him to spend a week in Nogales–a week in my shoes–to see how we suffer. And, in a week I think he would follow through on his word.”
Saulo holds on to the dream of one day constructing a life for himself in the United States, a country for which he has much admiration. “I know there is security and safety there,” he says. Saulo dreams of a life where he can drop his children off at school and know there are no gangs, where he can go to work without fear. “In my country, if I was a good worker, a noble person, I would be exactly that in the US.”