[Editors Note: I have been on and off the phone with Juana, a friend of mine, since she lost contact with her sister, Lorena. I apologies at the onset for errors in grammar and spelling in this article. It is written both as opinion and stream of conscience. It’s not easy writing on a cell phone.]
UPDATE: On Friday, 3 January 2020, San Eli News was made awar that Lorena’s body had been found. We were able to verify this information through government sources in Mexico. Her body, however, was found in Matamoros, Mexico.
“Lines, lines, lines,” said Juana. “Always this talk of lines. I hear peoples, they say, my family came in the right way, they waited in line. What lines?”
Juana is worried about her sister, Lorena, who is in Nuevo Laredo. For almost two years, Lorena has been trying to come into the United States to be with the rest of her family.
“She gets so close for this, so close,” said Juana as she held her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart for emphasis. “She is told to make this application, fill out this form, pay this fee, and then the things she needs has changed again.”
On Wednesday, the streets of Nuevo Laredo were filled with the sounds of gunfire. The sounds of those battles were heard in Laredo. The violet outbreak was terrible enough that Martin Cuellar, Sheriff of Webb County, had to issue a warning about crossing into Nuevo Laredo.
“Please do not cross to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, right now. We have information that there have been intensive shootings between cartel members and Tamaulipas State Police,” was Cuellar’s warning.
The first shooting, the first gun battle took place on New Year’s Even in Colonia Francisco Villa.
“I was talking to Lorena,” said Juana. “I could hear the shoots. She said she had to go for safety.”
The fight between the state police and the cartel began at 3 p.m. Juana has yet to hear from her sister.
“I pray to the Blessed Mother she is okay,” Juana said as she crossed herself.
A second gunfight began New Year’s Day throughout the city.
Over the past few years, we have seen an increase of people coming to the United States in hopes of asylum or to begin the process of citizenship. They are coming here in hopes of escaping the violence that plagues their home countries.
“We came, me and Hector, because of our son, Mundo” Juana said. “They wanted him. The said they would make him see while they killed his family.”
Juana’s son would often wander through the wooded areas, near their home, in Honduras.
“It was these walks that he made the mistake of finding bad people,” said Juana.
Her son was twelve years old. He wanted to be a painter and artist. He hoped to find a way to attend art school and work in Hollywood creating movie sets. That was his dream. The problem was the reality in which he lived.
While walking home, he encountered a group of men, all with guns. When they saw Mundo, he thought his life was over. He ran, only to meet others of the same group.
“That day they make Mundo carry something back to town, to the docks,” said Juana.
Mundo began to find a different place to walk and play. He told his parents that he would never be found in the wood again. They thought that would be the end of it — nothing more to worry over.
Honduras is a significant point in the drug route to the United States. After the attempted coup in 2009, things only became worse. Crime has risen while the police seem unable to stop gangs like MS13 and Barrio 18.
“Drugas, the guns, it all goes through,” said Juana. “It’s the people, the gangs, the wanting of easy money.”
Weeks after Mundo ran into those men in the woods, they found him, by accident, in Trujillo. According to Juana, they followed Mundo home. The next day, they were waiting for him just down the street.
“Mundo tell us that they wanted him to be the mule for them,” Juana said. “They tell him if he don’t do this, they will kill us. Mundo tell us this when he finally come home.”
Mundo missed school that day. He was slapped, punched and made to carry load after load, by foot, from the woods to the docks.
“Hector tell us we are to leave then,” said Juana, talking of their plan to move in with her sister, Lorena, the next day.
“The next day Mundo say he don’t want us killed,” Juana recalled. “He said he must go or we all will be hurt.”
Nine days later, Mundo’s body discovered in a car.
The police, according to Juana, did nothing. Trujillo is the kind of town tourists visit. It’s not the place where gangs and drugs can be found.
“I drove a truck,” said Hector. “I worked a good job. But you see it, the gangs, the murder, the rape of women. It’s all a show that we have none of this there.”
South American, Latin America, it’s not safe. Sure, there is the public face of a country that wants to draw in tourists, that want’s the seedy side of life to be invisible. The desire for drugs in America fuels that violence, and we don’t want to talk about it. We want to ignore it.
“My sister,” said Juana. “My sister she come here for the asylum. Then she must make more waiting. These men, these bad make the same things in Mexico!”
Imagine, you are running from violence only to think you are getting away from it only to land in the middle of it again.
“She was planning to come to Juarez, so we thought this as better,” said Juana. “We come in 2012. She should have come with us. She said she wanted to stay; it would get better.”
Juana and Hector are now firmly established on the path to citizenship. They arrived at the southern border, crossed the river and found the first Border Patrol agent they encountered. They turned themselves in and requested asylum.
Interviews, hearings, what Hector called El Circo. In the end, they will eventually become citizens.
“I don’t know where is Lorena,” Juana said. “I cry. I pray she is living and not in the street somewhere.”
How do we find a solution that doesn’t break up families and remove children from their parents? How do we make asylum workable? How can we create a policy that doesn’t read one way today and another tomorrow? How do we do this? Are we even capable?
Asylum is simple. For asylum to be granted to someone, they must have been persecuted or fear they will be simply because of their race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social or economic group. This is according the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Additionally, if they have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity, they can also apply.
Of course to ask for asylum, you must be in the United Sates.
The Law says that in general, “any alien who is physically present in the United States, or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum.”
When Lorena arrived at the border, she was told that she could not enter the United States.
“She should have come for the Border Patrol like us,” said Juana, and I agree.
The way the law is written, anyone can come into the United States and within a year, request asylum.
I circle back to my questions: how do we make this system work? How do we ensure that the law is followed? How can we help people, like Lorena, seek safety?
Oh, and no, you cannot go a an US Embassy or Consulate and request asylum, the law is not written that way. You need to be here, physically, in the US. Besides, have you ever tried to get into a US Embassy without an appointment or a US Passport?
“I want for my sister to be safe, to be here,” said Juana. “I want for her to have this safety.”
That is what we all deserve, safety. We have a right to security, to safety, to not live in fear, to follow our dreams in an environment in which we do not have to worry our children will be forced to carry drugs, or gun, and wind up in a car, dead.
How do we do it? How?