Between Two Walls: Mexico and USA
When asked how she made it to the United States, Nayda nervously smiles, stutters over her words a bit, and eventually mentions how everyone manages to get through, right? Her laughter shows a hint of distrust, but that quickly fades as the conversation with her interviewer becomes cordial and intimate. It's a chilly morning, and we connect on Google Meet for this interview. Nayda, a thirty-five-year-old woman from Santander, Colombia, lives in Denver, Colorado. However, her journey to this place was arduous and challenging.
According to her, the motivations for leaving her home country are the usual ones: precarious employment unjust and inadequate wages. Even with age, if you are over 30, you face obstacles when being hired, mentions. However, this is only part of their reasons for having migrated.
The main reason is related to something even more daunting: her eleven-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with pulmonary neurofibromatosis. That brought me here: the impossibility of affording my daughter's medical bills. A single medical examination costs seven million Colombian pesos (approximately USD 1469). It's an amount that's simply unattainable with the minimum wage, so I decided to leave to seek work and attend to my daughter's situation.
Nayda left her country on September 18th of 2022 to go to Cancún, Mexico. Her stay in that country lasted until October 1st when she was processed by immigration and sent to the Eloy Detention Centre (ICE). During her stay and transit from Mexico to the US, Alejandra describes this as a "traumatic" experience. The first trip was from Cancun to Queretaro. This trip can take two hours by plane, but by bus or car, it can take up to a day or more, depending on the stops taken and the schedules of the routes.
During this journey, Nayda's friend and seatmate pulls back the curtain of the bus window. All the passengers sense that there will be a detention. Through the window, her friend can see a group of armed men wearing beige pants. They are unaware of the authority they represent or whether this corresponds to an illegal search. The men board the bus and ask for their identification. Cubans, Colombians, and Indians were traveling on this bus to Querétaro. All of them respond to protocol questions regarding their stay in Mexico: destination, country of birth, and the reasons for their trip. The men allow them to continue their journey, and everyone feels relieved.
After a few hours, they are detained again, this time by men dressed in white shirts and beige pants. Their treatment is neither friendly nor respectful as at the first checkpoint. In a violent way and with cries, they order all the passengers to go down. It was harassing treatment; they constantly yelled at us that we had to "cooperate" or else we would be deported to our countries of origin. With fear and anger, everyone reluctantly complies and allows a violent search where personal belongings and money are involuntarily taken, such as Nayda, who lost all the money she had at this checkpoint.
However, it was the third checkpoint Nayda describes as "a traumatic and horrible experience." At this checkpoint, it was men and women who detained us. They all wore black polo shirts with blue pants. They took one of my partners to the bathroom, undressed her, and took away all her possessions. Here, they left all of us without any money.
After undressing her in the bus restroom, my friend burst into tears. The woman searching shouted at her, asking why she was crying, to which she responded, "You are taking away the money I have to feed my children".
Upon hearing this, the woman gave her three mexican bills that Nayda couldn't identify the amount of. The shouts of "Where is the money! Where is the money!" could be constantly heard. While searching for me, they asked, "And if you don't have any money, how do you plan to move forward?" I was paralyzed with fear at that moment, unable to respond, Nayda concludes as she recounts the situation in her interview.
Alejandra mentions that both she and her friends had at least a thousand dollars each, which were stolen by these people who threatened all the bus passengers. It was traumatic because they had screwdrivers and other sharp weapons. They conducted intimate searches and took everything.
On the other hand, she mentions that after this checkpoint, two more were carried out, apparently by the Mexican army. These were much calmer and more respectful. They were asked if they had experienced physical aggression or any other way of harassment:
None of us spoke about the previous checkpoints where we experienced theft and violence. We feared being attacked again or turned away when we were closer to our destination. We all stayed silent, hoping it would speed up the process and let us continue. Our sole focus was to get through and move on.
Upon arrival in Hermosillo, they took another bus to Sonora, and there was only one more stop. It was a five-hour journey. Out of the forty passengers who started the trip from Cancun, only twenty made it to the destination. Finally, on October 1st, Nayda and the other travelers arrived at the United States-Mexico border, where they found more people from different countries, such as India, Colombia, and Cuba. Subsequently, they were processed and taken to the Eloy Detention Center, where Nayda remained from October 4th to November 9th, 2022.
Despite describing the treatment as "kind and attentive" by the guards and counselors at the Eloy Detention Center, Nayda mentions that the confinement was very difficult for her: I felt like I was in a prison. For ten days, we had limited access to the central courtyard of the detention center. We were locked in our cells, only allowed to use the bathroom and get some sun in the morning due to Covid measures. After these initial days, we were allowed more time in the courtyard to breathe fresh air, engage in activities, socialize, and purchase items from the kiosk for those who had money.
At the Detention Center, Nayda obtained information about the legal service provided by Subversivo. Her fellow detainees told her about the assistance they received:
There in the courtyard, I learned about Subversivo. I saw that suddenly many people were released thanks to the support they received. I asked my fellow detainees, and they gave me your phone number. I asked my mother in Colombia to contact you. The attention I received was efficient and very courteous, and I was able to get out of Eloy in a short time. I'm very grateful.
Currently, Nayda is residing in Denver, Colorado, thanks to the support of a friend and their family, who have assisted her throughout this process. Her next court date is on December 18th, 2022. Her situation is uncertain, and when asked about the current state of her daughter and job prospects, Nayda's focus shifts away from the webcam, her voice breaks, and her sobs become audible. I fear my situation because everyone has a different process or story. I'm not fleeing my country; I left solely due to economic difficulties and personal problems. It's complicated because U.S. immigration policy demands a valid motive or reason to remain in the country, such as political asylum or a credible threat to my life.
At the end of the interview, Nayda explains that she cannot find employment. Due to a lack of identification documents in the United States, it is challenging for her to secure formal employment. However, she will persist in searching for job opportunities while awaiting her next hearing.