Clemencio y Cecilia
Travelling with 2-year-old daughter and 11-month son.
We had to leave Guatemala because of organized crime there. We both had good jobs and were in a stable situation. I worked security in a mall and my husband worked security in a factory. There are lots of women who don’t work in Guatemala because it is seen as strange or people say that the mom should be home with her kids. Or if the woman is working, they say that the man must not be capable of supporting his wife. But I enjoy working and I think it’s important for me to be independent. I wasn’t able to continue to higher levels of school, but I did learn the basics, including how to read and write. I don’t see the point of wasting that education and staying home when I am capable of working. My mom was a single mom and she taught me to be strong and work hard.
So my husband and I had a good life, but because of that the gangs started to extort us. Things came to a head when I went out to the store with my two-year-old daughter. Men put a gun to my head and said that I had to turn my daughter over to them. I refused. A mom isn’t anything without her kids, isn’t anyone. I know people who have had their children kidnapped in the same way and then the gangs charge extraordinarily high ransoms. Our neighbor was seven months pregnant when she was killed for not paying the extortion. When they killed her they shot her in the stomach to make sure to kill the baby too.
So after they tried to take away my daughter, we sold everything. We sold our house, everything that we had to pay a smuggler. He said that it was a guarantee, that we would make it to the US. But when we got to Altar, Sonora he doubled his price. What we thought we were being charged in pesos he said was actually quetzals, which means it was twice as much money. We didn’t have that much so we had to borrow money from my brother-in-law in the US.
My brother-in-law lives in Florida and he was ready to receive us. He’d even bought us tickets to travel to Florida.
Our smuggler told me to cross first with my 2-year-old and then a couple of days later my husband crossed with our 11-month old. We were detained by Border Patrol after just a few hours of walking. From the moment that we were detained, immigration agents treated us very poorly. They didn’t want to give formula to my daughter. They make the kids stay quiet, they want them to just sit and do nothing and they yell at the parents if the kids are loud.
The Border Patrol agent who interviewed me said that we shouldn’t ask anything of them because it was our fault that we put our kids in this situation. He said that they were punishing us so that we didn’t come back, because we were just coming to take food away from them. He didn’t even say what would happen to us or that we were going to be returned to Mexico. He just made us sign papers in English. He told me that if you don’t sign you will stay here in detention for a month or two months. I was desperate because my daughter wasn’t able to eat the food they gave there, and I couldn’t imagine being there even longer. So I signed. I didn’t know we were going back to Mexico or that we would have a court date until we actually arrived in Nogales.
In some ways, it would have been better if they had sent us back to Guatemala. I had to leave my seven-year-old daughter behind there and I was hoping that being in the US I could help her with her studies. Mexico is even more dangerous than Guatemala. At least in Guatemala I could attempt to keep my family safe. Here in Mexico I don’t know anyone and it is very bad. At the corner closest to where the shelter is, people just wait for us migrants to rob us.
My kids are very traumatized from the experience. My daughter won’t let me bathe her because the medical people in detention washed her hair with very hot water to get rid of lice. It scared her, especially because she didn’t know who they were. My baby cries constantly now, and he didn’t used to cry as much before.
I see now that it is impossible to find safety. I don’t think other people should put their kids through this. And for those in the US, I ask that they put their hands on their hearts and recognize that we are all in need. That they shouldn’t treat people poorly because we are all human beings and children of the same God.
These stories are from people who arrived at the Kino Border Initiative's comedor (dining room) in Nogales, Mexico from January to March 2020. Each person not only gave permission for their story to be shared, but also expressed the importance of people in the US paying attention to them and knowing more about their reality. They speak and they share because they believe that if we work together another world is possible.