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Migrants brave perilous journey for dream of better life in U.S.

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

DEMING – They fled domestic abuse, gang violence and poverty with hopes for a better life in the United States.

Sandra Cabelleros stands in the lunch line with her daughter Angelina, 8, at the former National Guard armory in Deming. Cabelleros was waiting on word about her 10-year-old daughter Alexandra, who was still in Border Patrol custody in Lordsburg. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Reasons for leaving Central America varied among the mostly women and children recently staying in a shelter at an old National Guard armory.

They survived long walks and bus rides, days without food, and were victims of robbery on their journeys. Some took more than a month to make it through the rising temperatures of late spring and early summer across rugged terrain.

Their descriptions of the conditions in Border Patrol facilities varied widely – one woman described a lack of food and little medical care, complaints volunteers said they heard from other migrants.

But most of the migrants interviewed commended Border Patrol for their humane treatment and say conditions were fine.

Here are a few stories from those staying at the Deming shelter on July 25.

Escaping abuse

Fleeing Guatemala was an easy decision for Rosemary Navarro.

Tired of abuse from her ex-husband and gang violence in her village, she decided to take up an invitation from relatives she hardly knew; family members who encouraged her to escape the violence and join them in Virginia.

Little did she know of the hardship that awaited her on a journey that took more than a month and a half.

“A lot of days, we would walk,” said Navarro. “Some days, we would catch a bus. We went about six days without food. Luckily, we weren’t harmed. It was just physically demanding. We saw a little bit of everything. It was hot. It rained.”

The most perilous part of the trip for Navarro, her 2-year-old son, Jeremy, and 16-year-old son, Brian, would come as they approached the border.

The “coyotes” – human smugglers – set them up at a ranch house for the final leg of their journey. “That’s when they (the coyotes) took all of our belongings,” she said. “We came with a group of about 150.”

She said things didn’t immediately improve when they encountered the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing near El Paso. They were taken to a facility – she’s not sure of the location – about two hours away.

They would stay there for eight days, and she said Border Patrol agents took what little belongings they had left.

“They asked for our documents again,” Navarro said. “We slept on the floor with Mylar blankets.”

It was cold, the room they were kept in didn’t have windows, and both of her boys became sick. Navarro said she requested medical attention for her sons, but the only medical attention they received were IVs for dehydration. Her toddler had nosebleeds and bled from his ear.

Navarro said they couldn’t tell whether it was night or day, since they had no concept of time while they were there.

In earlier interviews with the Journal, Border Patrol agents voiced frustrations about conditions at facilities and said they sounded warnings after the number of asylum seekers spiked. Agents said conditions have improved as Border Patrol streamlined processing.

Navarro hopes the harsh days are behind her.

“Once we got here, it was a good change,” Navarro said of the Deming shelter. “We’re thankful to be here.”

Her family was at the end of a two-day stay, where they were provided with three meals a day, cots to sleep on, showers and clothing. They were waiting for family to come up with the money for them to travel to Virginia.

“What they don’t raise, the non-profit group Colores United is going to pay for the rest of the ticket,” Deming City Administrator Aaron Sera said.

Others treated well

Tales of harsh Border Patrol conditions were not typical among the migrants at the shelter on this particular day.

“They treated us well,” said Sandra Caballeros, a young mother from Guatemala. “They gave us water and food; everything we needed.”

Lucas Geronimo, a cab driver from Guatemala who was traveling with his 7-year-old son, Juan, and Vicenta Vasquez-Anderson, a young mother from Honduras, said they were greeted by Border Patrol officers who gave them water.

“We had to be careful when we crossed, when we got to Juárez,” Vasquez-Anderson said. “We were warned there were Mexican soldiers who would try to stop us. But there were Border Patrol officers who were waiting on us. The first thing they asked was ‘are you thirsty?’ ”

Geronimo said he knew he was safe when he came in contact with Border Patrol officers.

“Once we crossed, we walked along the wall (in El Paso),” he said. “We figured that if we did that, we would eventually run into Border Patrol. We were so exhausted. Once we ran into Border Patrol, we were so relieved.”

But Geronimo said some had to deal with “fake” Border Patrol after crossing the border.

“There are people at the border posing as Border Patrol,” Geronimo said. “Most of the people crossing don’t know what Border Patrol looks like. Some of them would get in the cars and have their money stolen.”

Family separation

For Caballeros, the hardest part of the journey was the separation from members of her family.

“The human smugglers – if you can call them that – said for us to have a better chance at asylum, and make it easier to come across, the family had to be separated,” she said.

She took her son, Joshua, 13, and daughter Angelina, 8, and crossed the border without any problem in El Paso. Her husband, Vario, and daughter, Alexandra, 10, attempted to cross at a different location in New Mexico. Alexandra got across; Vario did not.

Caballeros said her husband’s papers were not in order, that he had an expired visa. “They made him go back to Guatemala twice, and it still hasn’t been fixed,” she said.

Caballeros wasn’t aware of the problem and was preparing to leave the shelter en route to Florence, Ala., to stay with her mother-in-law. But she was told that she couldn’t leave, because her daughter was alone at the Lordsburg facility. Caballeros – who was worried – was hoping to be reunited with her daughter later in the day.

It was just the latest hurdle on her path to Alabama.

“The journey was very tiring,” she said. “There were days when you eat, and days when you don’t.”

She had also been deported twice back to Guatemala by Mexican authorities.

“The conditions in their (Mexico) holding facilities were terrible,” Caballeros said. She said she went five days at one point without a shower, because the facilities didn’t have any.

After being sent back to Guatemala twice, why did she keep trying to make it to the United States?

She said her family left Guatemala because of a lack of work and a lot of crime, that they just wanted a better life.

“Being a mother, I knew I had to fight for my kids,” Caballeros said.

Gang violence

Both Geronimo and Vasquez-Anderson decided to flee because of the gang violence in both Guatemala and Honduras.

Vasquez-Anderson said she was pregnant with her daughter, Charlene, now 2, when men broke into her home in Honduras and attacked her and her husband, an American citizen.

She said her husband suffered brain damage in the attack.

“Mentally, he wasn’t all there,” said Vasquez-Anderson, who decided to make the journey with her daughter to Maryland, where she has family. Her husband, who is from Minnesota, will make the journey with their other two children.

“Now, he’ll come back to his country and get the care he needs,” she said.

Vasquez-Anderson made the trek by foot and by bus. She said she changed the braids in her hair so she would blend in when she got to southern Mexico. She and her daughter would stay outside hotels on the way up through Mexico.

“Outside of the hotels, they could tell I wasn’t from there, so they offered to help me,” she said.

Geronimo, who was heading to Michigan, said his employment as a cab driver made him a target of gang violence.

“The violence is what drove me to leave,” Geronimo said. “There’s no justice system. The police is corrupt. You can’t file a restraining order, because the police are paid off by the gangs. … I’m a taxi driver. If they know you drive a cab or a bus, they know you carry money, and they extort you. … If you don’t give it to them, they’ll beat you up or kill you.”

Geronimo fears he’ll be killed if he returns to Guatemala.

“Guatemala is my homeland,” he said. “If it were safe, why would I be here?”

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