“It’s hard for people to sympathize when we don’t always know the full story. These people have sacrificed so much to get here and yet we still don’t value them. This country is known to be ‘The Land of the Free.’ These people deserve to know what it’s like to experience a little bit of autonomy, they deserve it. After all, studies have shown they help our economy because they increase the size of the labor force.”

The Dangers of Crossing the U.S./Mexico Border

 

By Brenda Panama, MO Foundation Research Intern

Brenda is currently an undergraduate student at Hunter College. She is majoring in biology with a minor in psychology. She is passionate of giving back to her community and devotes her time working with non-profits. Brenda plans to be neurosurgeon and continue to give back to her community through non-profits and volunteer work.

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There are about 340 million people that cross the American and Mexican border each year to attain their lifelong dream. The dream that they will finally have financial stability. In this pursuit, migrants take life-threatening risks and rack up a mountain of debt in order to come. Since 1995, around 2,000 to 3,000 bodies of men, women and children have been found along the entire southwest border with their dreams shattered. There are also cases where migrants are deported to their country of origin while they attempt crossing. Some either end up borrowing double the amount of money they asked for the first attempt to try crossing again, while others give up and lose their homes and landscapes. Those who are successful are often subjected to prejudice, despite working under minimum wage.

I’ve had the privilege to interview 4 different individuals, who shared with me their struggles:

 

Interviewee #1 

Why did you feel the need to flee to a completely different country? Were there government issues that forced you to leave? Were there economic issues that forced you to leave?

Era una situación económica muy difícil. El cambio del sucre al dólar estadounidense hizo difícil buscar trabajo. 

A difficult economic situation, the change of the Ecuadorian dollar to US dollar made it hard to find work.

How were you able to come to the United States?

Tenía que encontrar a alguien que pudiera prestarme dinero para pagar el coyote [una persona que ayuda a traficar personas a través de la frontera de Estados Unidos y México]. Y si gracias a dios lo encontré. Después tuve que hipotecar la casa de mis papás para que la gente se asegure que si les iba a pagar todo su dinero. 

I had to find someone who could lend me money to pay the coyote [a person who helps smuggle people across the United States and Mexican Border]. And yes, thank God I found it. Afterwards I had to put a mortgage on my parents’ land so that people could make sure that I was going to pay them all their money. 

How was the travel between the United States and your home country?

De Quito a México fui en avión y de México a San Diego caminé. El clima era muy feo. Durante el tiempo que yo estuve era muy frío. El coyote nos daba bolsas de basura para ponernos por el frío. Pasé seis días caminando con poca agua y comida. Llevaba días sin usar el baño, no tenía dinero, y dormíamos en las montañas. 

From Quito to Mexico I went by plane and from Mexico to San Diego I walked. The weather was very ugly. During the time I went it was very cold. The coyote gave them garbage bags to wear because of the cold. I spent six days walking with little water and food. I hadn’t used the bathroom for days, had no money, and we slept in the mountains.

How is the United States different from your home country?

Cuando llegué en el invierno del 2001 no tenía nada. A las dos semanas comencé a trabajar pagando $50 de renta cada semana por dormir en un sofá.

When I arrived in the winter of 2001 I had nothing. Within two weeks I started working, paying $50 rent each week to sleep on a couch.

 

The first few years I was depressed. I really miss my family and the life I had. Here it was just work and work to pay off the debt.

 

Interviewee #2

Why did you feel the need to flee to a completely different country? Were there government issues that forced you to leave? Were there economic issues that forced you to leave?

Yo vine a los Estados Unidos con la idea de hacer mucho dinero y regresar al Ecuador después de cinco años para vivir tranquilamente.

I came to the United States with the idea of making a lot of money and returning to Ecuador after 5 years to live peacefully.

How were you able to come to the United States?

Tuve que hipotecar las tierras de mi papa. En ese tiempo, 1993, yo debía $14,000 mis dos intentos.

I had to mortgage my father’s land. At that time, 1993, I owed $14,000 for both my attempts.

How was the travel between the United States and your home country?

Del Ecuador a México el viaje no fue muy feo. Pero después que llegue a México en mi primer intento, la policía de Chiapas me mandó otra vez a Ecuador. Yo no tenia opcion tenia que seguir por que no podía dejar que le quiten las tierras a mis papas.

Y lo traté otra vez, y para pasar a los Estados Unidos corrí toda la noche de Tijuana a San Diego con miedo de immigracion. 

From Ecuador to Mexico the trip was not very ugly. But after I got to Mexico on my first try, the police sent me back to Ecuador. I had no choice, I had to continue because I couldn’t let them take the land from my parents. 

And I tried it again. To get to the United States I ran all night from Tijuana to San Diego in fear of immigration.

How is the United States different from your home country?

Los primeros años estuve en depresión. Extrañe mucho mi familia y la vida que llevaba. Aquí era solo trabajar y trabajar para pagar la deuda. 

The first few years I was depressed. I really miss my family and the life I had. Here it was just work and work to pay off the debt.

 

Interviewee #3

Why did you feel the need to flee to a completely different country? Were there government issues that forced you to leave? Were there economic issues that forced you to leave?

Era siempre un sueño ir a los Estados Unidos y salir adelante para mi y mi familia.

It was always a dream to go to the United States and to provide and help my family lead a better life.

How were you able to come to the United States?

Mi hermano me ayudó a pedir dinero a una cooperativa [un lugar donde se puede pedir dinero prestado con interés]. Después pudemos pagar al coyote para que nos lleve. 

My brother helped me ask for money from a cooperative [a place where you can borrow money with interest]. Later we were able to pay for the coyote to bring us.

How was the travel between the United States and your home country?

Yo tuve que tomar un bus, después tomé un avión hasta Juárez. Después, de Juarez camine por el desierto. Yo traté de cruzar cinco veces. Para la quinta me quedé sin comida y agua. Me acuerdo y dormimos muy poco, solo de 8-10 pm y después de la 10pm tratábamos de pasar. 

I had to take a bus, then take a plane to Juarez. After Juarez, I had to walk through the desert. I tried to cross five times. By the fifth time I ran out of food and water. I remember and we slept very little, only from 8-10pm and after 10pm we tried to pass.

How is the United States different from your home country?

Al principio era difícil de asimilar que estaba en otro país. Y si era difícil por mi mama, todavía la sigo extrañando.

At first it was difficult to assimilate that I was in another country. And if it was difficult for my mom, I still miss her.

 

When I was going through the desert I remember that I had no food or water. I found snakes and dead people lying there. We hardly slept and ran in the middle of the night because we were less likely to get caught. It was very difficult.

 

Interviewee #4

Why did you feel the need to flee to a completely different country? Were there government issues that forced you to leave? Were there economic issues that forced you to leave? 

Me tuve que ir porque las cosas se complicaron. Por el COVID perdí mi trabajo y no encontraba uno que me ayudaba a mantener económicamente a mi familia.

I had to leave because things got complicated. Due to COVID I lost my job and I couldn’t find one that would help me financially support my family.

How were you able to come to the United States?

Tuve que pedirle a la gente que ayudara a poner tierra. Mi suegra me ayudó mucho. Pudo pedir dinero a una corporación con una tasa de interés decente.

I had to ask people to put their land on a mortgage for us. My mother-in-law helped out a lot. She was able to ask for money from a corporation with a decent interest rate.

How was the travel between the United States and your home country?

El 12 de mayo, tenía que tomar bus luego pasaría la noche en Atacomo. Luego aterrizaron en México. Me atraparon en México y me interrogaron y tendría que mentir que quería ver a la Virgen de Guadalupe para que no me devolvieran. 

Me atraparon 4 veces después de estar tan cerca. Después de tantos intentos fui destruido, mi familia era mi única motivación. Me metieron en la cárcel 4 veces. En la cárcel no había aire acondicionado, hacía mucho calor. También había mucha gente, mujeres con niños, adolescentes de todo. 

Cuando iba por el desierto recuerdo que no tenía comida ni agua. Encontraba serpientes y gente muerta tirada allí. Apenas dormíamos y corríamos a medianoche porque era menos probable que no nos atraparan. Fue muy difícil.

On May 12, I had to take a bus and then spend the night in Atacomo. Then [I] landed in Mexico. They caught me in Mexico and interrogated me, and I [had] to lie that I wanted to see the Virgin of Guadalupe so they wouldn’t send me back. 

I got caught 4 times after being so close. After so many attempts I was destroyed, my family was my only motivation. They put me in jail 4 times. There was no air conditioning in the prison, it was very hot. There were also a lot of people, women with children, teenagers of all kinds. 

When I was going through the desert I remember that I had no food or water. I found snakes and dead people lying there. We hardly slept and ran in the middle of the night because we were less likely to get caught. It was very difficult.

How is the United States different from your home country 

Cuando vine por primera vez no pude encontrar trabajo. Fue difícil, pero con la ayuda de mi papá encontré y ahora puedo apoyar económicamente a mi familia.

When I first came I wasn’t able to find a job. It was hard, but with the help of my dad I found one, and now I’m able to support my family financially.

It’s hard for people to sympathize when we don’t always know the full story. These people have sacrificed so much to get here and yet we still don’t value them. This country is known to be “The Land of the Free.” These people deserve to know what it’s like to experience a little bit of autonomy, they deserve it. After all, studies have shown they help our economy because they increase the size of the labor force. The stories I was able to gather speak for themselves and I hope that someday in the very near future, we are able to appreciate these hardworking individuals.

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Photo credit: Kitra Cahana

Sources:

Barry Golson and Thia Golson. “Retirement Without Borders: How to Retire Abroad–in Mexico, France, Italy, Spain, Costa Rica, Panama, and Other Sunny, Foreign Places (And the Secret to Making It Happen Without Stress)”. https://books.google.com/books?id=hknZxFWtWnQC&pg=PA75#v=onepage&q&f=false

 Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, M. Melissa McCormick, Daniel Martinez & Inez Magdalena Duarte. “A Humanitarian Crisis at the Border:New Estimates of Deaths Among Unauthorized Immigrants”. https://web.archive.org/web/20090506223329/http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/images/File/brief/Crisis%20at%20the%20Border.pdf

 The United States Government. (2021, November 30). The economic benefits of extending permanent legal status to unauthorized immigrants. The White House. Retrieved September 2, 2022, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/cea/written-materials/2021/09/17/the-economic-benefits-of-extending-permanent-legal-status-to-unauthorized-immigrants/#:~:text=Immigrants%20also%20make%20an%20important,also%20contribute%20to%20increasing%20productivity.

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