A better system for migration is possible. We must create the political will to enact it – and we know migrants play a key role in creating this will for change. Today, we are relaying a story from one of The Revolutionaries, a group of migrants who formed to organize marches and actions to press for migrant rights. Iris* is one of these courageous men and women, and she shared her own story of abuse at the hands of migration officials throughout her journey at our March for Migrant Dignity on September 26.
*Iris’ name and face have been concealed to protect her identity.
“I left the Guatemalan coast on January 18th. The threats of violence and assault from the gangs was too much. We fled – me, my husband, and my daughter, and joined a caravan of migrants headed north. At each step of the journey, officials have treated us horribly.
When we arrived at the border of Guatemala and Mexico, the federal police beat us up. They used tasers, even on children and pregnant women.
In Puebla, Mexican migration officials separated me and my husband from our daughter. They accused us of being human traffickers, even though we had my daughter’s birth certificate with our names on it. They transported us in a cargo truck with more than 200 people, including children.
In February, we tried to cross to the US to ask for protection. They dropped us off in the desert. We walked for more than three hours until the Border Patrol agents found us. They asked us what we were doing. I told them we wanted to seek asylum. The agent asked why we had left our country. I told him about the threats, the two attempted kidnappings and assaults. They began to interrogate my daughter. She started to cry.
An agent said, ‘They’re from Guatemala, and they’re big liars.’ I responded that we are not all the same. When they took our fingerprints, they started to badger my daughter again. She said that she didn’t want to cry anymore, that she wanted them to help us. She said she couldn’t return to our country because the gangs were going to kill her. Again, the same agent called us. My daughter said to the agent that ‘Surely, you don’t have kids. That’s why you speak to us like this.’
There were also minors traveling with our group. The agents brought them to another place. Then, they took us to a detention center in Tucson. They had us detained for a few hours there. Then they brought us to Nogales, Arizona. They took our phones, shoelaces, and a necklace that my daughter had. The necklace had been a gift from her grandfather for her birthday. They never gave the necklace back.
It was really cold where they detained us. They only gave us a thermal towel, it didn’t even seem like a blanket. They didn’t let us speak with a lawyer or anyone. We were there for nearly two days.
On February 28, they deported us here to Nogales, Sonora at 7 am. My daughter asked me, ‘Where do we go now?’
I didn’t want to put her in any more danger trying to cross through the desert again. Mexican migration was closed, so they couldn’t help us. Later, someone told me that was a blessing in disguise – Mexican immigration would have sent us straight back to Guatemala.
We stayed for a while in the park. My daughter was hungry. We didn’t have money to give her anything to eat. After a while, a boy arrived and told us about Kino and another shelter that could help us. We walked a mile to get to Kino. We tested negative for COVID, and they gave us their other services. We stayed in a shelter for a few days. Then, we were able to rent a place with another family. There were a lot of bad people where we were renting. We heard about one girl who couldn’t pay the rent. It turns out they sent criminal people after her.
I have now been in Nogales for 7 months with my husband and daughter. And I think what a lot of people in the US don’t understand is that upon returning to Mexico, even if it isn’t the country we are fleeing, we are not safe. Three times, people from the gangs in Guatemala have searched for us in Mexico. The reason we are still in harm’s way, vulnerable to these people, is because of the U.S. unfair policies. It is because agents rejected us and didn’t even hear our claim to asylum. They reject people seeking protection, even if we are fully within our rights.
The only thing I think and want: if the credible fear program truly exists, US authorities must put it in practice by listening to us. They must respect the judge’s decision that despite Title 42, any person who expresses their fear of being expelled to a US authority should be channeled to a process to analyze their fear.”
IMPORTANT NOTE: Border Patrol’s behavior towards Iris violated U.S. law. Even though people seeking safety can’t approach the legal ports of entry to ask for protection, a judge’s ruling, issued in May, stipulates that families detained while crossing the desert who express fear of return MUST get a screening interview to see if they might experience torture if returned to their country. Under this ruling, Border Patrol’s brusque actions were not only unkind, but also illegal.
We denounce the abuse that Iris* and her family faced officials all throughout her migration journey, including Border Patrol’s failure to adhere to U.S. law. We join her call in demanding that the U.S. simply follow its own laws by ending the abuse and granting people their right to seek asylum!
You can take action today to help make this happen. Call both of your Senators (use the number 202-224-XXXX, and find the last 4 digits HERE), and your House Representative (phone list HERE) and ask them to invest in a sustainable model of humanitarian reception that welcomes families seeking protection, rather than inflating Border Patrol’s budget, given these patterns of abuse. Sample script is available here.
Let’s create a world where people like Iris can migrate with dignity!