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A Brother's Story: Miguel

“I always had the idea to leave in mind, but I was scared. My older brother didn’t want to go to more school here so he went to the US to work. My second oldest brother did poorly in school and didn’t enjoy it, so he followed my eldest brother to work in the States. I was old when I finished primary school—I was fourteen—and I wanted to take a break from school and was inspired by their journey. My eldest brother returned to Mangulile for two years and went back to school and later returned to the States. I struggled for a long time with God’s will for me and whether I should go to the US or not. I prayed about going a lot. I told God I would only try once.

I left for the US in 2013. I traveled alone by buses until I reached the border of Guatemala and Mexico. I found a coyote on the border and spent two days there. We traveled to San Cristobal in Chiapas and stayed a night in a hotel. Seventeen people were waiting at the hotel, including a group of five guys from Mangulile, who had been waiting for me for a month. The coyote made us separate into two groups. I didn’t want to separate from my group, but I pulled the short straw, so the five others from Mangulile went in one truck and I traveled with people I didn’t know. The Mexican immigration can be bought off, so the coyotes have contacts with the migra and pay off each stop along the way so we could pass. There was no one stationed as we passed one post, so we didn’t pay. We got passed them without paying, but the other truck was chased down by the migra because they didn’t pay and all of them were deported. I was the only one from Mangulile to make it. I prayed and thanked God, “God, you only saved me!”

We arrived at the border. It was barbaro. The border’s just covered with really ugly houses on the river. One we called the house of dust because it was covered with dirt. The toilets are contaminated and 120 people crammed into one house. But I met another guy from Mangulile who was also a Christian and we supported each other. We held prayer meetings every day at 5 PM and fifty people would come each time. We preached the Bible, so anyone could come and feel welcome. They considered us pastors. I called myself the “pastor of the illegal”. The border’s a hard place because people don’t have money. Some people don’t have family in the States, so it’s really hard for them. People have to cover and pay for each other. I stayed for a month waiting to cross. Eighty of us split up into two groups of 40 to cross together. The other pastor from Mangulile drew a number in the first group. Everyone begged him not to leave the border, but he left. I drew the last number and went with the second group.

There was no one on guard where we crossed the border. After we crossed things became difficult. “Have faith,” we told each other. We spent a week waiting to cross the desert to Houston and determining the best way through the desert to avoid immigration. Immigration is a lot tougher in Houston. Crossing the desert we had very little food. We had six cans of corn and six cans of beans for ten people, but thankfully we had enough water. On the second day men cried because they thought they were going to die. “God’s going to help,” we continued to remind ourselves.

We stayed at a ranch in San Antonio. It sold tons of clothes and food. When we got there, I embraced everyone who had been in the other group. I called my family for the first time, and my faith was really strong then. One of the members of our group had suffered through the journey across the desert and was incredibly weak. He decided to stay in San Antonio rather than continue with us, so we brought him to another ranch to recover. The ranch we brought him to was one that sells off migrants, though, which we didn’t know, so they asked us how many were in our group and called our coyote. They called immigration and told them how many of us there were and where we were staying. A lot of ranches do this—turning in migrants. It’s a business for them. They make $500 for each person they turn in, so they’re always looking for people to make money off of. There were 48 of us at the ranch with two different coyotes. Immigration found more than twenty sets of footprints in the dust outside the ranch, so they knew we were there and ran in.

“We’ve got to escape,” my friend urged me. We ran into the bathroom, which had a small window near the ceiling. I punched the window to break it and it broke the skin on my hand. I was bleeding and still have the scars on my knuckles. We shimmied through the window and the glass cut my forehead. I was bleeding all over. The bathroom was kind of high from the ground, on a middle level because the house was a walkout ranch so we had to jump out of the window. One guy fell, another hit the ground and started running. You had to land ready to run to get away from immigration. When I jumped out of the window the immigration officials were ready for me, and grabbed me with a hard grip. He forced me into a chokehold and pushed me on the ground, stomping his foot on my back. Speaking Spanish, he ordered me to stay still. He forced handcuffs on me. I was covered in blood and still bleeding quite a bit. That treatment made me mad. I’m illegal but I’m not a delinquent. I still have scars from the handcuffs. But being caught by immigration is better than what happens to others. I knew they weren’t going to kill me. Two of my cousins had been sequestered by a gang in the past. One of them was killed and one escaped.

I was taken to a detention center in San Antonio. I asked God, “Why did this happen?” but my faith grew in God greatly during this time. It took off. Every night after dinner I taught the word to other inmates. I taught reconciliation and told other inmates that when they returned to their country they could make it an opportunity to return as a new person. I spent five days there and was deported. I called my mama but stayed in San Pedro where I was returned. My hand was still inflamed and injured from punching the window.

The coyote I traveled with gave three tries to cross for the same price, but I had made a promise to God that I wouldn’t return. My brother thought I was crazy. He told me to go with the coyote a second time. He is like a second father to me after my father passed away, but he is authoritarian. We were both strong in our opinions. My sister said something to him and he calmed down. I told him sarcastically that I’d return, but wasn’t sure. I wrestled with God about it all. “God, these coyotes are liars,” I said. There was the possibility that I wouldn’t make it a second or a third time either.

I eventually decided to attempt to cross a second time. In crossing the border to the US, as I was running I fell and cut and fractured my collarbone. The coyote brought me to a clinic where I was treated. I wasn’t deported, so I used my third crossing attempt on the same trip after I had recovered a bit. I prayed to the Lord, “I don’t want to be hurt this time.” If I have the chance, I’ll escape, I thought. There were crocodiles in the river as we crossed. I stayed in a house across the border in the US. Immigration found us and surrounded the house with bright search lights. There was no escape. The immigration official who caught me at first pulled on my arm, but I pleaded him to hold it gently because it was still healing. He handled me carefully after that, which I appreciated.

I want to send Americans a blessing, and I want them to know that we’re fighters. Migrants are illegal, but don’t treat us like we are delinquents. I’m living at the waiting of God, and I want to help people in this community who have low resources. Some don’t know what or when they’ll eat and I want to care for them. It’s important that we teach people how to do rather than just give. I want to see a business in the community where people can work, or a farm to sell bananas. I’m going to do it, and I’m not going to die without seeing people having a source of income.

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