By Manuel Ocaño
Alex, a Honduran father of three, walked from the Regional Department of El Yoro, in eastern Honduras, all the way to the California border so that he and one of his children could turn themselves in to Border Patrol and begin the process to gain asylum, get a job, and eventually bring his wife and his other two kids.
He shares that it took him two months to get to the Mexicali border. They suffered hunger, sleep deprivation, disease and fatigue on their journey, but the dream of reaching the United States kept him moving forward with his son.
One afternoon last week he got together with a group of migrants to hitchhike with drivers who , out of the kindness of their hearts, could get them closer to San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, where they planned to cross and turn themselves in to Border Patrol and request asylum in the U.S.
It was just getting dark when they crossed, said Alex. They saw Border Patrol vehicles in the distance, so they walked all the way to them and turned themselves in; but what happened after that, none of them had expected.
He shares that the Patrolmen did not receive them as people who were fleeing for their lives, but arrested and verbally barraged them instead, treated them with disdain, held them with no assistance, until they eventually got documentation to appear in a San Diego immigration court in mid-August and were returned to wait in Mexico.
Their wait is about 100 days long, from the day the get their initial court appointment documents to the day they can finally have a day in court.
“I would like to go back to help my wife and kids, because look, after a two-month trek and then waiting three months, we might still end up getting deported, and all that time we cannot work,” said Alex.
“My family tells me to go back instead. While I’m away, they are having the worst time, because they have no income,” he laments.
While Alex was talking to La Prensa San Diego, Guatemalan migrants from Baja Verapaz also expressed that they’d rather go back to their hometowns.
“We can’t afford to go this long without work and without helping our families who are waiting for us to send them help,” one of them said.
“That’s the thing,” continued Alex, “that the families we leave behind often don’t even have money to eat.”
Pastor Albert Rivera, who runs the Agape shelter that houses these migrants, says that what Alex and his Guatemalan companions have been going through has become the norm.
“Since they cannot cross through here (in Tijuana), they opt for going to the Arizona desert, where they used to detain them and then release them there while they waited for their court date, so they could work in the meantime. Now, they are detained, given a date to show up in court, but they send them to the end of the line, around end of August or September, and they have to come wait in Tijuana, where shelters have little room,” says Rivera.
There are currently 16,200 migrants waiting in Mexican border cities for their immigration court date; 2,100 of them went directly to ports of entry to properly turn themselves in as required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The long waits without being able to work undermines the determination and strength of these migrants, who more and more often would rather return home, according to the pastor.
Just this week, a group of 25 Guatemalans who came from San Luis Rio Colorado to Tijuana to wait for their court date gave up and decided to talk to their Consul instead so they could go back to Guatemala. This is a commonplace occurrence, and it’s easier for Guatemalans, because they have a Consulate in Tijuana; however, for people from El Salvador or Honduras, like Alex, things are more difficult.
Now Alex, and thousands of migrants in a similar situation, will have to go back to the perils they fled from back home.
“And worse yet,” says Alex, “because we spent everything we had just to get here.”