The following testimonies are from families who came to the Comedor during the month of January. All had sought protection in the U.S., and all were sent back to Nogales to await their court dates in El Paso, which were generally months out. The families asked for their experiences to be shared publicly. These were first read at the “Save Asylum” protest in Tucson on January 31, and in order to elevate the asylum-seekers’ voices, we share them here as well.
Family from Guatemala: two daughters (9 and 3), mom (33) and dad (51)
Mom: We left Guatemala because the gangs killed my dad, and then they came after my husband. They were watching him all the time, when he left the house, when he went to work. They extorted us, and it got to the point we could no longer pay. They put a note under our door that said, “We hope your daughter’s funeral will be cheaper than paying us.” We had no choice but to travel. What they did to my father they would have done to us.
Dad: We heard that we could find safety in the U.S. and that it would require proof. So we got documents and took photographs of the notes, of the violence, and of my wife’s dad’s body.
Mom: When we got to the U.S. and tried to show the officers this proof, they didn’t care. They didn’t even look at it. They kept us in detention for six days. During that time, my older daughter got very sick. The food there was very bad and she couldn’t eat any of it. She has epilepsy and had a seizure. She had to go to the hospital. She is still traumatized from that experience. Children aren’t meant to not have their freedom. They aren’t meant to be treated like criminals. It’s not their fault.
Dad: They didn’t believe I was my children’s father. They said I was too old to possibly be their dad and that I was lying. They made me take a DNA test to prove that I was their father. I was separated from my wife and daughters for six days. I saw another man and his son in detention who were so afraid of being sent back that the father would not sign the papers. The man bunched up his fist and wouldn’t do it. The agent grabbed his hand and forcibly unfurled his fingers and shoved his fingers on the paper.
Mom: We’re not safe in Mexico. We didn’t want to come here. But to return back to Guatemala would have meant the death of my husband and daughter.
Dad: It’s very important and good to share these stories. Thank you for sharing our story. We don’t want to die. Please tell them we don’t want to die.
Family from Guatemala: two daughters (11 and 4) and mom (35) (mother speaking)
We left Guatemala because the gangs were targeting my daughter. She is only 11, but she is tall for her age, and looks older. They followed her everywhere. When this happens is that the girls become the property of the gangs, they are raped and disappeared. This happened to the daughter of someone I know. They said that my daughter was asking for it because she left the house, but she only left the house to go to school. I tried to report this to the police and nothing happened.
I had the proof that this was happening and that her life was in danger when I got the border. I showed it to the agent but he didn’t care. He said I either had to return to Mexico and wait there or return to Guatemala. I said I didn’t want to do either. He said I had to, and that if I didn’t sign the papers, he would sign them for me and no one would know it wasn’t me. I never did sign any papers but here I am. He signed my name for me.
When I had to decide if I would go back to Mexico or Guatemala I chose Mexico. It’s dangerous for us as Guatemalans here too. But at least here there’s a small chance of opportunity, and that’s how I decided. I told the official I didn’t know what to do when I got back to Mexico. He said, “you can ask your God if he will let you into the U.S.”
Here, we are staying at a shelter. It’s not safe. There is the mafia here. There is a man there who follows my daughter around. It’s scary for her and for me and the shelter doesn’t do anything. I think he is about 35.
We have our court date on March 31. I don’t know how we will survive until then. I don’t know how we will find the money to get to Juarez.
Mom with two young children (Mother speaking)
I had to abandon Guatemala because of a lot of violence at home. I lived through sexual assault and threats. The journey was very difficult. We arrived in the US after a week.
In detention we ate once a day. I thought we were going to be detained two days with immigration and then be able to go with my family members, like people did before. The agent told me that I had two options: fight my case from Mexico or accept deportation by plane. Many who didn’t speak Spanish signed to return to Guatemala. They were confused, they didn’t know if they were signing to fight their cases or to be deported to Guatemala. I am very afraid of returning to Guatemala. Some people said they weren’t afraid of returning, but they didn’t understand what they were being asked. They told us there would be a plane flight the following day. There was a woman with a baby who was detained for 9 days. She signed to be deported because of the desperation of her baby and the poor treatment. Her son didn’t have much clothing and was cold. She was glad to leave that place.
I never imagined I would have to wait in Mexico. I was in Nogales for almost two weeks. I was sad, but I have a lot of faith in God that he is going to help me with my case and help me arrive to the US and not have to go back to Guatemala. I don’t want to stay in Mexico because there is a lot of crime. I don’t understand why they send people to court in Juarez/El Paso, maybe just to make us give up.
We are a family of 5 with our 12-year-old son, our 7-year-old daughter and our baby who is a year and three months. We are a humble family.
In Guatemala we had work and we lived peacefully. We had a bakery. We used to work together and we were good. But afterwards we lived with fear. For 8 years we paid extortion fees to the gangs. We basically worked just to pay them money and it wasn’t enough for us. They always wanted the amount they asked for and they didn’t give extensions. You had to have it ready. After paying it for 8 years, they asked us for 50,000 quetzales and we didn’t have that money.
Dad: we knew the risk of bringing them here, but for their safety we did it. If someone was well off in their country, they wouldn’t need to leave.
It isn’t just that they sent us here. The court date is a long ways off (not until March 25th). We don’t know anyone, we don’t have anything. We feel very sad and disillusioned. We also feel unsafe and closed in here. We don’t have money for the bus to Juarez. Our family sends us a bit from Oregon but they don’t have enough to send us what we need.
Mom: It makes me sad to see my children suffer. It was very cold in detention. You arrive wet from the desert and instead of hot air they put on cold air. They detained us on December 29th and they sent us here on January 2nd. Our message for immigration is that they should be more attentive to the needs of the people. That they give better food to the children. That they ask why someone is coming.
We ask that they allow us to stay inside [the country]. Our family can help us. They are ready to receive us in Oregon. I know we can’t enter other countries, but this is a big country and it has the means to help us. We ask that they give us permission to stay. What we want is a future for our children. That they can study, that they live peacefully, far from crime. The kids have dreams of being a police officer and a doctor.
Son: We ask that they don’t discriminate against us because we are all equal.
Mom: We are all children of the same God. It doesn’t matter if we are short or tall or black or white.