I was talking with someone at school here today. He's a Guatemalteco and his sister is in the States. Somehow our discussion of reciprocal verbs morphed into a conversation about his sister's experience crossing the Mexico-Guatemala border, the entire country of Mexico, and then the US-Mexico border. It's a harrowing story and although I certainly wasn't taking notes, I want to retell it as best I can.
After deciding to leave, the sister and her son (16 years old) first had to cross the border into Mexico. Because I was planning to go into Mexico for a couple of weeks myself, and didn't because of the level of danger there, I know at least theoretically how many ways there are to get oneself hurt in that part of the journey. In Mexico, they found a coyote who would take them in a truck. The set-up was this: Think of the inside of a U-haul-sized truck with a false wall about a foot inside each real wall. It's in between these walls that they stood - for 24 hours, driving through a sweltering desert. Because another passenger's knee spent the whole time pressed against the son's knee, when they got out shortly before the US-Mexico border, his knee was the size of a small watermelon. And the next step was to walk through the rest of the desert and cross on foot.
They tried this at Juarez (the most dangerous city in the Western Hemisphere, especially for women) and were detained by La Migra (immigration) and taken back to Mexico City. From there they made the journey once again to a point just south of Juarez and tried again. Once again they were captured and this time detained in a prison along with narcotraffickers and gang members - as though they were violent criminals.
Once they got out, they tried again, but this time going into California. It was a 15-day walk through the desert, without shoes. At one point, the mother (ie, my friend's sister) fell off an 8-foot ledge and injured her own leg. So whereas she had been supporting the son, now they had to walk holding onto each other and each supporting the other. [As a side note: the Mexico trip I referred to last time included a trip 100 km into the desert on the Mexico side. It is utterly brutal and if you want any chance of escaping La Migra, you have to walk through literally a carpet of cactus.] Five days out from their crossing point, they ran out of water and had to drink water with mosquito larvae, filtered only through their shirts, and they got sick.
When they finally crossed into California, they were given $5 by their coyote to buy some food at McDonald's, but they couldn't keep it down, since they hadn't eaten in days. And the $5 might sounds kind, but in comparison to the Q60,000 ($8500) that they now owed to the coyote....
They had to spend several nights in a park in LA, waiting for family in Texas to drive and pick them up. My friend told me that before leaving, his nephew had been a weightlifter. Not a body builder, per se, but fit and strong. By the time they got to Texas, he was gaunt and had to stay in bed for 15 days just to recuperate his strength and heal his knee.
The mother and son now work together as janitors in two different establishments - a clothing retail shop and an apartment building. They work one job from 3am-8am, then the other from 2pm-10pm. (Notice that neither of those time slots offer quite enough time for a solid rest.) They hope that if they stay in the States another five years that they will be able to go home.
I offer this story (as something of a re-gift, as I feel privileged to have heard it the first time) as one of so, so many almost-identical stories of crossing. About 750 Salvadorans alone leave each day for the US and something like 400 are turned away or deported. The difference - the 350-ish people - don't all make it, though. The desert is littered with dead people who died in the attempt, starved, dehydrated, killed by gangs, etc. What would compel someone to do that? I am pretty sure it is not an interest in taking US jobs or getting rich and not paying taxes. (For the record, most folks in the States without papers never see a cent of the money that is taken out of their pay - they put in, but they don't receive anything in the form of social security and they aren't eligible for other welfare programs.)
So then a second thing: I miss my sister a whole lot. And I've only been gone two and a half weeks. My friend may, if they make enough, see his sister and nephew in five years, after a couple years already. What a context I come from that I can be upset about a one-year separation not even three weeks in! [Another side note: I just, while writing this, paused and had a conversation with another student here about different degrees of emotion and the fact that, while my experience of separation might exist within a completely different scale than my friend's, it is not less valid. In fact, trying to suppress it out of some sense of privilege-guilt tends to serve more to close dialogue than to open it.]
All of this is toward this point, I suppose: Next time the immigration situation in the US is frustrating, next time it seems that wages are being suppressed because of immigration, next time someone who gives you "reasonable suspicion" to doubt their status is frustrating on a personal level, please think about the situations that lead people to come here. Think on the separation of families and the debt and danger of crossing. Give people a story, even if it is your own fabrication, that is empathetic, understanding that we are all children of the same God and that God could care less about la frontera, except as it crosses and endangers the lives of Her children.