No welcome here: an immigrant’s saga

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If you have not been an undocumented immigrant from Central America making your dangerous way through Mexico only to face vigilante hate groups and la migra at the U.S. border, you don’t know what hell is.

Fleeing poverty or persecution at home, you are exploited and persecuted again by Mexican police trying to rob your last coins. If you’re broke, you wind up in a Mexican jail, charged with a fabricated list of crimes from A to Z.

Next you could find yourself being tortured by the federales, using techniques like those of the Guatemalan military, who learned them at the School of the Americas.

If by a miracle the planets are aligned in your favor and you get through Mexico with no problems, and if you are lucky to have family willing and able to help you with cash, you still find yourself at the mercy of the “coyotes,” the smugglers of humans.

These experiences make the TV program Survivor look like a walk in the park. Yet they are just a sprinkle of the storm that awaits you once you make it into the promised land — and they are only the first pages in the book of my own life.

During the 1980s, when I was in my twenties, I spent six months at the Port Isabel immigration processing center in Texas, together with 600 other Central American men and women escaping civil wars and seeking political asylum.

At Port Isabel, we were left outside in heat up to 100 degrees, while dust storms swept through the camp and invaded our bodies. My ears became infected, and it took several days of complaining before anything was done. Even at that, I was fortunate, because I spoke some English; others could not.

During my first few days there, we weren’t provided with hygiene necessities like soap and toothpaste. Because there were no portable toilets outside, people had no choice but to just pee on the ground. When the guards saw this through their surveillance cameras, they would shout racist insults.

After 15 days, a prisoner would be called for a hearing, and bail would be set between $15,000 and $35,000. The way we were ripped off by the Mexican federales was nothing compared to this. How are poor immigrants supposed to come up with this much money? Many detainees had panic attacks at the thought of being deported back to countries where they would most likely be killed by death squads.

Corruption and brutality were widespread. One time, a guard offered me food and money to beat up a detainee he had clashed with a few days earlier. I just walked away.

Another time, a Salvadoran prisoner from my barracks was slow to leave the courtyard when we were called in for lunch. An officer struck him, drawing blood. The detainee wanted to take legal action and talked to people at Proyecto Libertad, an immigrant rights project. At midnight, after the lights were out, about five immigration officers came into our unit, seized the injured man and his witnesses, and transported them to Houston, where they were deported.

This so-called democratic system failed these people. The constitutional rights that they are supposed to have as human beings in this country, regardless of race and national origin, were thrown in the gutter.

In Mexico and Central America, 90 percent of the people live day by day, just trying to make ends meet. Many depend on agriculture to survive, farming their own small piece of land or working for someone else. But they cannot compete with massive tons of cheap agricultural products from the USA, flooding in thanks to “free trade.”

This gives people no alternative but to leave. Those who own houses or livestock sell them, others borrow money. A lot lose everything in their trek up north, and the ones who get deported back return to a miserable existence, worse than when they left. What way out is left for these wretched of the earth except revolution?

But, like a curse, U.S. capitalism has been riding right by our side for what seems like forever, with the Yanqui government stopping us from pursuing our own destinies by supporting one oligarchy and genocidal military dictatorship after another. Still, don’t think for a minute that our spirit of revolution has been shot. Now more than ever, as we see movements in South America making advances toward better societies, we are inspired to struggle.

But the people of Mexico and Central America also look to the native-born citizens of the U.S. to fight to get Tío Sam off our backs and to wage your own battles. After all, you have a history of making revolution; perhaps you can make just one more, in the cause of gaining freedom for all of us.

The above selection is from the new anthology Talking Back: Voices of Color. Click here for more information.

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.

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