Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred
by Jimmy Gonzalez, January 2017
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The UDHR document was established in 1948, and articulates the basic human rights that all human beings are born with. The United Nations (UN), an international organization established in 1945, adopted this document, whose rights member states agree to protect, defend, and uphold. The United States of America has been and continues to be a country of opportunities and refuge for those who come from distant lands. However, for the past several decades, little has been done to support the majority of these immigrants as they settle in America, so much so that there are approximately eleven to twelve million undocumented people in America. Marginalized from society, misjudged by many, and oftentimes misunderstood, the majority of these men, women, and children live as outcasts and are subject to having their basic human rights violated on a daily basis. It is clear that our immigration system is broken. In his book Underground America, Peter Orner, an American author and professor in San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing Department, illuminates this human rights crisis in America through the oral histories of undocumented immigrants. To use Orner’s words, most if not all undocumented immigrants, “live in a state of permanent anxiety” (9).
People immigrate to other countries for economic, social, and political reasons. In recent decades, immigration from Central America, specifically from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, has increased significantly due to the gang-violence, poverty, and the lack of security. El Salvador, which is located between Guatemala and Honduras, is considered to be one of the most violent countries in Latin America. El Salvador’s Civil War between the military and the guerillas during the 80’s lasted for about twelve years and resulted in over 75,000 deaths. According to Norma C. Gutiérrez, a Senior Foreign Law Specialist who works for the U.S. Department of Justice, a department that sets out to ensure the public safety of all citizens, reported, “With an average of thirteen Salvadorans killed daily…El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and is ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America” (2). For the time being, the terror in El Salvador is ever-increasing. Continually oppressed by two of the deadliest gangs in Central America, known as the “Mara Salvatrucha Trece” (MS 13) and their rivals, “Barrio Dieciocho” (18th Street), men, women, and children have no other choice but to flee El Salvador and seek refuge in other nations, particularly in the U.S. These two gangs originally formed in Los Angeles, California during the 90’s, but because the majority of these gang members were undocumented Salvadorans, many, including its leaders, were deported. During this time, El Salvador was very vulnerable due to its Civil War, which allowed for these two opposing gangs to practically take control of the nation. Pushed by poverty, gang-violence, and the lack of security in El Salvador, tens of thousands of Salvadorans emigrate to the U.S. yearly in hopes of a safe and secure life. According to the UN, “Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.” In her book They Take Our Jobs!, Aviva Chomsky, an American author and teacher who specializes in Latin American history, sets out to dismantle twenty-one of the most common negative misconceptions about immigrants in America. Chomsky states, “Over the course of the 1980’s, up to a million Salvadorans and Guatemalans sought refuge in the United States” (72). They risk life and death to come to a country that has historically oppressed them. Without a clear solution to this intricate dilemma, the people of El Salvador will continue to come to the U.S. even if it means death.
In the fall of 2014, I met Jose while working a part time job in San Francisco, CA. Jose was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador, which is located in the highlands. He came to the U.S. at the age of sixteen to be reunited with his mother; meanwhile, his father and older brothers decided to stay in El Salvador. The notion of a better life and more importantly, the sense of security, propelled Jose to come to the U.S. According to Jose, he and his family “lived in a zone that was surrounded by lots of gang members.” In other words, the sense of security didn’t really exist for him while growing up in El Salvador. Prior to coming to America at age sixteen, Jose believed that “The United States has always been a place of many opportunities, in which whatever person that comes over here can be involved in better things.”
When Jose arrived at the US border, he was handed off to Mexican drug cartels, who commonly extort immigrants prior to crossing the border. Article 5 of the UDHR states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Jose, along with twenty-four other people, were guided by a coyote [human smuggler], who lead them across the border between El Salvador and Guatemala and then from Guatemala through Mexico. However, as they arrived at the border between Mexico and the U.S., Jose became suspicious of the coyote when he noticed that they were being handed off to the drug cartel. According to Jose, the drug cartels are “dangerous because those who are arriving as immigrants are being kidnapped, tortured, and being asked for money that is beyond them.” Fortunately for Jose, there was an agreement between the coyote and the drug cartel, under which if a small ransom was paid, the drug cartel would lead them through the Sonoran Desert. However, this type of deal did not automatically insure anyone’s safety. Oftentimes, immigrants from Central America do not know that at some point in their journey, the drug cartel will be the ones guiding them through Mexico and into the U.S. Jose states, “The coyote does not enter the desert, only those who work with the cartel.” Unlike the coyote, who was unarmed, members of the cartel carried guns while crossing the border. For Jose, this meant that if he disobeyed any of their orders, they could simply aim and fire. Jose states, “They are crossing the people, always armed and they are always talking…They place a gun like this and they threaten you and they place fear within you…Yes, yes they are bad people.” Jose, like the millions of refugees, has human rights, but it is clear that these human rights exist only to a certain extent. Against all odds and with his himan rights practically ignored, Jose courageously navigated his life at a time in which life seemed to be dissolving.
In order to come to America, Jose was funneled through the Sonoran Desert, in which his “right to life” (Article 1) was slowly diminishing as he walked tirelessly for a total of three days and three nights. As one of the many difficult ways in which immigrants come to America is through the Sonoran desert, Jose recalls that the most treacherous part of his journey to America was when he had to walk through the desert. He states, “There, it is more difficult… One of the ways that I had to go through was to step into the desert and walk… Yes, yes, in the desert. More than that, it was night time.” His chances of making it to the other side were quite low due to the fact that those who are funneled through the Sonoran Desert oftentimes die from dehydration and heatstroke. Basically, when these men, women, and children enter the desert, their bodies tend to overheat because of the lack of water. Their bodies begin to cook from the inside and as a result, these immigrants often lose their minds, faint, and die. These grave conditions could have resulted in Jose’s death, ultimately violating his right to life. According to Jose, the only things that sustained his life at that point were “a backpack, bread, and tuna.” These men, women, and children lose their lives because they are not equipped with the necessary tools that they need in order to survive. Jose acknowledges, “This is the risk we take as immigrants to come here.” In spite of the impossibilities, Jose, like millions of immigrants, comes to America risking the precious gift of life in order to get a sense of security, peace, and opportunity. Jose at this point was pushing his limits and would by all means continue to push until reaching his goal.
Mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged, Jose no longer felt safe or secure because this journey seemed ever volatile. In fact, right before entering the Sonoran Desert, Jose started to develop feelings of stress and fear because it was now his turn to navigate through this unforgiving terrain in order to come to the U.S. With his mother waiting on the other side, he remembers, “Well, I felt distressed because they make you go into the desert and you don’t know what will happen in there once inside.” Enveloped by the fear of the unknown, Jose kept reminding himself that the U.S. was only a desert away and soon enough he would be reunited with his mother. At this point in time, Jose was in survival mode, which meant he could no longer be feeble-minded for he knew that such a mentality could jeopardize his entire life. There was no time to waste, so the cartel along with the other twenty-four people stepped into the Sonoran Desert. All bets were off at this point, with the cartel guiding them, the relentless desert conditions before them, and the border patrol ahead of them. According to Jose, “The immigration is there and you are always scared because you are hoping that they do not find you or get you, the only thing you want is to cross and arrive, you know.” Having overcome the financial hurdle, the checkpoints, and the cartel, Jose was faced with a new challenge yet again: this time it was the border patrol. The desert is vast and it is practically impossible to run away from the border patrol while suffering from dehydration. Jose was prepared to run from the border patrol even though they might shoot him or cause a separation between him and the rest of the group. It is clear that Jose was not protected while walking in the desert; in fact, as long as he remained in the desert, no one would be there to protect him. Laws are meant to protect us, but unless these laws are truly enforced, immigrants’ rights will continue to be abused. In the case of Jose, his “right to security” dissolved right before his eyes while walking in the desert amid rattlesnakes and the deadly drug cartel.
While walking in the Sonoran Desert, Jose and the twenty-four other people experienced moments of dehydration, hunger, and in some occasions, separation from one another as they were running away from the border patrol. Jose was not alone while coming to America, but as he arrived to America, he realized that only a few had made it to the other side. According to Jose, “So, you go with that mentality, but like I told you, I was in a group of twenty five people and in the end only thirteen of us went through.” At this point, some people had been captured by the border patrol, others had gotten lost as they were separated from the group, and some died because of the lack of water. In an interview with Robin Reineke, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Colibri Center for Human Rights, a non-profit organization in Arizona that works with families to end migrant deaths along the border, she states, “Not only are we losing lives in the border every year, but we are losing them in degrading, harmful, and painful ways” (NPR). Looking back at Jose’s story, and those of the thousands of others, how might the U.S. work to establish policy that would allow others to avoid these human rights abuses?
Immigration Detention Centers
Every year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are arrested and detained in immigration detention centers while they await their asylum cases, hearings, and sentences. In her study “Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States,” which describes the emotional and psychological effects of being transferred, Alison Parker, director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights, states, “They are held in a vast network of more than 300 detention facilities, located in nearly every state in the country” (Human Rights Watch). In essence, because there are so many facilities throughout the U.S., the majority of these immigrants experience being transferred from center to center without legal representation. Parker cites an attorney who says, “[The detainees] are loaded onto a plane in the middle of the night. They have no idea where they are, no idea what [U.S.] state they are in. I cannot overemphasize the psychological trauma to these people. What it does to their family members cannot be fully captured either” (Human Rights Watch). To understand these detention centers, it is vital to understand the fact that not all of them are adequately regulated by the government. In fact, the detention centers that aren’t adequately watched are being operated by private corporations that have been allowed to operate as for-profit centers.
Without government control, these detention centers often go unpunished for violating these immigrants’ basic human rights, such as the right to a public defender. Anthropologist Dr. Lucy Fiske, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, in her study “Human Rights and Refugee Protest against Immigration Detention: Refugees’ Struggles for recognition as Human,” wrote, “Life inside immigration detention centers is precarious, filled with uncertainty and monotony and, too often, degrading treatment” (19). An extreme yet common strategy to deter refugees from applying for asylum is to place them inside what the refugees call hieleras, Spanish for iceboxes. In his study “U.S. Immigration Policy: Enforcement and Deportation Trump Fair Hearings,” Jacob Oakes, J.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina School of Law, examines US Policy regarding unauthorized migrants and asylum-seekers. He states:
Reports of harrassments, threats, and attempts to ‘dissuade from applying for asylum’ included the use of ‘iceboxes’ (or ‘hieleras’), extremely cold rooms where migrants are placed while they await their fate, sometimes giving in and signing the removal papers and other times falling ill.” (859)
Often neglected of their basic human rights, these immigrants are treated like animals simply because they lack a piece of paper. In 2009, the U.S. government implemented what is called the “Immigration Detention Bed Quota.” According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, an organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protection to immigrants and asylum seekers, “The immigration detention bed quota requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds on a daily basis.” As a result, immigrants who have no criminal record—even legal residents—are placed in these detention centers to meet the annual quota. Studying the immigration detention system, in her article, “Liberty and Justice for All: The Violations of Basic Human Rights in Detention Centers Across the United States,” Olga Verez reports:
But as illegal crossings from Mexico have fallen to near their lowest levels since the early 1970’s, ICE has been meeting Congress’s immigration detention goals by reaching deeper into the criminal justice system to vacuum up foreign-born, legal U.S. residents convicted of any crime that could render them eligible for deportation. (197-198)
Immigration detention centers were primarily built to temporarily detain immigrants before they were granted asylum or deported, but it is clear that their main focus has shifted. The focus has become to fill beds regardless of their immigration status. When detained immigrants should at the very least be provided with a public defender to have a fair chance in the asylum process.
Southern Border Plan
In July 2014, Mexico announced its new Southern Border Program, through which it would strengthen its border between Guatemala and Mexico. Seldom spoken about, this program has allowed the U.S. to extend their southernmost border in the sense of border patrol. President Enrique Peña Nieto promised that Central American migrants would be treated better and provided a less dangerous path to come to the United States. WOLA, an organization that advocates for human rights in the Americas, has studied how Central American migrants have been effected since the Southern Border Program was enacted in “Increased Enforcement at Mexico’s Southern Border,” which aims to educate the general public in regards to the new challenges that Central American migrants face. The overall purpose of the Southern Border Program, according to President Peña Nieto, is to “Protect and safeguard the human rights of migrants who enter and travel through Mexico, as well as to establish order at international crossings to increase development and security in the region” (WOLA 5). Once enacted, Mexico began to strengthen its Southern border by setting up several checkpoints to arrest anyone who was trying to come here unlawfully. The Obama administration strongly supports Mexico’s strong hand on these immigrants because this ostensibly means a decrease in migrants arriving to the U.S. border. However, what both governments fail to realize is the fact that most of these Central American migrants are fleeing from gang threats and extreme poverty, which forces them to come even if it means death.
In general, one of the common ways in which Central American migrants are smuggled through Mexico is on a cargo train nicknamed La Bestia, Spanish for “The Beast.” The reason this train is called “The Beast” is because thousands of migrants have lost their lives riding this train and it runs along a common route on which gang members assault immigrants. However, due to the Southern Border Plan, this train has become less accessible to Central American migrants because the speeds of the train have “Increased from about 10 kilometers per hour (6 mph) to 60-70 kilometers per hour (37-43 mph)” (WOLA 21). Instead of aiding these immigrants as the President of Mexico said he would, people are now coming to America by coming through even more dangerous paths. According to WOLA, “With decreased possibilities of boarding the train in Chiapas, migrants and smugglers are now relying on different and dangerous routes and modes of transportation, including by foot and boat” (2). Even though the majority of these immigrants are men, there are thousands of children and mothers who also have to face these challenges. Strengthening border patrol will not stop Central American migrants who are fleeing from the violence of this country, many of whom are in desperate need of asylum. According to WOLA, “These routes expose migrants to new vulnerabilities while isolating them from the network of shelters established along traditional routes” (2). Even more disturbing is the method with which the government of Mexico decides whether or not Central American migrants are worthy of asylum. According to WOLA, “Mexico has a broader definition of ‘refugee’ than the United States, which only grants asylum when an individual can demonstrate ‘that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group’” (25). How can an immigrant who is running for his life have enough evidence to persuade the Mexican government that he is worthy to be considered a refugee? A Central American migrant is not able to document the horrors from which he is running from, so to be judged based on the lack of evidence is simply senseless.
Prevention Through Deterrence
Prevention through Deterrence is a strategy that has been implemented to decrease immigrants from Central America reaching the U.S., but in order for this strategy to work, the U.S. would have to provide protection for asylum seekers in Central America. They have tried to build walls and fences along the Southern parts of CA, which then force immigrants to come to the U.S. through the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. In his book The Land of Open Graves, Jason De León, an Anthropologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, introduces Prevention through Deterrence and explains how it was built to purposefully kill hundreds of thousands of Central American immigrants. According to De León, “Border zones become spaces of exception—physical and political locations where an individual’s rights and protections under law can be stripped away upon entrance” (27). Like Jose, thousands of immigrants who are funneled through the Sonoran Desert walk through terrain on which their rights no longer exist. Countless people have died in this desert because there is little to no water at all to sustain them while walking in the desert. They are forced to travel through this type of terrain because of Prevention through Deterrence. The government believes that by building the walls and fences, this will automatically deter immigrants from coming to America in the first place. De León notes, “At the same time, these policies expose noncitizens to a state-crafted geopolitical terrain designed to deter their movement through suffering and death” (28). The U.S. government knows that the Sonoran Desert is the deadliest region any immigrant could be smuggled through, but they refuse to do anything about it. In essence, that was the purpose of Prevention through Deterrence from the very beginning. Strategic and well played, Prevention through Deterrence has been working. For the time being, somewhere in the vastness of the Sonoran Desert, a refugee is fighting to stay alive. De León states, “Although no public record explicitly states that a goal of PTD is to kill border crossers in an attempt to deter other would-be migrants, the connection between death and this policy has been highlighted by both academics and various federal agencies charged with evaluating Border Patrol programs” (34). Immigrants are dying without the justice they deserve. Stepping into the desert is like stepping into one’s fate: there are only two outcomes, life or death. Even though these immigrants have the chance to turn around and go back to their countries, they refuse to do so because deep within their hearts, they hold steadfast to the idea that the U.S. will grant them the refuge they so desperately need.
Prevention through Deterrence seems like it may be working according to the goal of leading them to their deaths, but the reality is that refugees continue to come. When Jose came to the U.S., Prevention through Deterrence was not officially in place, but he still experienced walking in the desert for three long days in which he could have died like thousands of other immigrants have. According to De León, “Many have died since the implementation of this policy, and the correlation between the funneling of people toward desolate regions of the border and an upsurge in fatalities is strong” (35). The fact that the U.S. government supports these policies is absolutely appalling. They consciously enact laws in the hopes that this will overall decrease immigration by making them walk into their own graves. The Sonoran Desert will continue to be a gravesite unless the U.S. decides to do something about it. Until then, men, women, and children will have to continue to navigate these difficulties.
It is clear that our immigration system is broken. Although there is no clear and absolute solution to this ever-growing dilemma, there are several things that the U.S. could do in order to help these refugees in particular. First, the U.S. should close all privatized immigration detention centers. By not shutting them down, these privatized detention centers will continue to mistreat these detained refugees. Now, for the one’s that do remain open, the government should carefully and regularly regulate whether these centers are meeting the federal and human rights standards. Kimberly Hamilton, candidate for Doctor of Jurisprudence at the University of Tennessee, College of Law, in her study, “Immigrant Detention Centers in the United States and International Human Law,” which explores the many different ways in which detainees’ rights are abused, suggests, “The key to effective and uniform application of policies is comprehensive training of employees and regular oversight and monitoring of policy implementation.” If the US government made it its goal to properly train the employees who work at these facilities and constantly check them, it would minimize the acts of dehumanization towards detained immigrants. These privately run detention centers should be brought to justice like any other organization so that it can be clear that treating these refugees in a totally indignified way results in serious consequences. Furthermore, immigrants in detention centers must be represented by public defenders. It is no longer acceptable that these refugees walk into their asylum case without anyone to represent them.
Secondly, the Southern Border Plan should actually live up to its decree. When Central American migrants apply for asylum, their cases should be considered even if they do not have any proof of the dire circumstances that they are currently in. The reason is because the majority of these immigrants are under life or death situations. Overall, building and maintaining the walls and fences along the Southern U.S. border uses money that can be invested elsewhere. As for the Sonoran Desert, the government has got to stop funneling immigrants through this type of terrain and take proper care of them while they await their asylum cases. This means that they should be housed and fed at least until they know whether or not they will be granted asylum to this country.
As we see with Jose’s journey and those of the millions of migrants that come to the US annually, privatized immigration detention centers should be outlawed and those that remain must be constantly regulated by the government so that these migrants human rights aren’t at risk of being abused; Secondly, the Southern Border Plan should commit to its initial plan, which would help Central American migrants as they pass through Mexico; Lastly, although walls have gone up to stop migrants from attempting this journey, Prevention through Deterrence will never deter these immigrants, many of whom can never go back home; therefore, the money which is spent in building and sustaining these walls should be invested elsewhere. While some may argue that many of these immigrants are criminals and should be detained, it is important to realize that the majority of these immigrants are refugees, including mothers and children, all of whom deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind,” which is commonly used, makes it easy to blame Mexico for the many types of abuses that the Southern Border Plan has generated since enforced. However, it is vital to realize that the US, along with Mexico, drafted the Southern Border Plan; therefore, both should also assume responsibility for this human rights crisis in Mexico. Humans will continue to survive and thrive many things; therefore, it is merely impossible to stop a human whose natural instinct is to survive by migrating to a foreign country. Documented or undocumented, we are all humans, and should treat each other with love, respect, and kindness.
Chomsky, Aviva. “They Take Our Jobs!”: and 20 Other Myths about Immigration. Beacon Press, 2007.
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Fiske, Lucy. “Human Rights And Refugee Protest Against Immigration Detention: Refugees’ Struggles For Recognition As Human.” Refuge (0229-5113) 32.1 (2016): 18-27. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.
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Hinojosa, Maria et.al. “By the Dawn’s Early Light.” Latino USA, Futuro Media, 18 Nov. 2016, www.npr.org/programs/latino-usa/502594534/by-the-dawn-s-early-light?showDate=2016-11-18.
Isacson, Adam et al. “Increased Enforcement at Mexico’s Southern Border – WOLA.” WOLA, WOLA, 9 Nov. 2015, www.wola.org/analysis/new-report-increased-enforcement-at-mexicos-southern-border/.
Leon, Jason De. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Oakland, CA, University of California Press, 2015.
Oakes, Jacob. “U.S. Immigration Policy: Enforcement & Deportation Trump Fair Hearings–Systematic Violations Of International Non-Refoulement Obligations Regarding Refugees.” North Carolina Journal Of International Law & Commercial Regulation 41.4 (2016): 833-918. Business Source Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.
Orner, Peter et al. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Edited by Peter Orner, McSweeney’s Books, 2008.
Parker, Alison. “Locked Up Far Away.” Edited by David Bathi, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch, 29 Apr. 2015, www.hrw.org/report/2009/12/02/locked-far-away/transfer-immigrants-remote-detention-centers-united-states.
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Velez, Olga. “Liberty And Justice For All: The Violations Of Basic Human Rights In Detention Centers Across The United States.” University Of Florida Journal Of Law & Public Policy 25.2 (2014): 187-204. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.
Jimmy: Okay perfect, first of all, um, I want to know where you were born
Jimmy: Um, what brought you here to the United States, and how are you right now?
Jose: Um okay well, okay I was born in El Salvador in the capital, mhm, the reasons I decided to come here were for security and to seek a better life.
Jimmy: Security, security from?
Jose: From, like well El Salvador is a country with a lot of violence and all of that, and it is not safe. It is not safe for the same reason, the gangs, there is no security.
Jimmy: Did you have experiences with the gangs or with the military, the police?
Jose: Um, yes, with the gangs more than anything else, because in school right, we go to school and like in El Salvador from a very young age they begin to be in school so, the school is mixed with them and if they see that if you have a little money on you or something like that, they begin to bother you so that you have to give them money or they want you to become part of or a member of the gang.
Jose: They force you.
Jimmy: Understood, did you have friends in your school, like you stated
Jimmy: That went into the gangs?
Jose: Yes they were gang members and they want you to go with them. If not, they can, kind of like they want to do something to you. I don’t know.
Jimmy: Understood, I understand
Jose: Well, where I lived it was like that, but maybe in other places it is not like that, but that is how it was for me.
Jimmy: That’s how it was.
Jose: Which is why like my mom told me that, well I told her that I did not feel much security there and that is one of the reasons why she wanted to bring me and one of the reasons why I wanted to go
Jimmy: So, your mom was already here in the United States?
Jimmy: She was already here, and were you living with your family or friends over their?
Jose: Yes, with my brothers.
Jimmy: Were they older than you were?
Jimmy: And were they also going to school?
Jose: Yes, yes all of us were going to school, but like how I have told you, we lived in a zone that was surrounded by lots of gang members. Many times their were organized groups of them and it you felt no security, to live in that type of ambience, you do not feel any type of security. Um, well, sometimes in front of my house, a lot of things happened many times, that, for example, there was a gang and the contrary gang and they would start shooting at themselves.
Jimmy: Which ones were they?
Jose: The gang members, the MS and the eighteenth. Sometimes, their was like encounters and they began shooting bullets in front of the house.
Jose: And sometimes the people that were walking their, well, maybe a lost bullet right, would fall on them. Understand Me? Because I lived an experience like that. Close to where I lived, there was a pupuseria stand, in which they sold pupusas their
Jose: And one time they began to shoot right there between the opposing gangs, and the lady was only doing her business, and sadly one of the bullets hit her.
Jose: And she was only working
Jimmy: And you saw all of this?
Jose: No no, I did not see it, but it was a couple of blocks away
Jimmy: Oh so you heard it?
Jose: Yes I heard it, and I went to see, and the lady was their, a bullet had hit her in her back.
Jimmy: Wow, wow
Jose: That’s why, that’s why it does not feel safe to grow up in El Salvador, it is not very safe. So, all those things make you think, of immigrating, you understand me, to get out of all of that. There are also other factors, like poverty and all of that, you understand me that force you to leave. That is why, well like in the United States, you know, this is a country which does not often see things like that. That forces you, that same thinking makes you want to come
Jimmy: Of course
Jose: To gain strength, to come here
Jimmy: Of course
Jose: To get here to seek something better, you understand me.
Jimmy: And when you were in El Salvador, what was your image, or your expectations of the United States?
Jose: Um, well, well I have always thought since I was very young, well that here, there is a better way of life and it is a place where, the United States has always been a place of many opportunities, in which whatever person that comes over here can be involved in better things, you understand me.
Jimmy: I understand
Jose: Studies, work, all of those things. That is why
Jimmy: Which is why
Jose: Which is why this country, that is what I have always thought about this country.
Jimmy: Yes yes, so, when you shared this with your mother, about the situation in El Salvador, she encouraged you, or encouraged you to come to the United States? What did you think in that moment?
Jimmy: Did you think it was a good idea to leave all your brothers behind?
Jose: Yes, yes that was, well a good opportunity, and I do not regret coming over here.
Jimmy: How old were you when?
Jose: I was sixteen years old
Jimmy: Sixteen years old
Jimmy: Wow, so when you were sixteen years of age, you had decided to come to the United States?
Jimmy: How did you travel to the United States?
Jose: Um, well I came here as an immigrant, because their wasn’t any other option, you know. It was the only option to come here. I had no other choice, sadly that’s the way things happened and yeah, I came here like everyone that comes here.
Jose: You know, you pay a coyote and the coyote brings you all the way here.
Jimmy: Describe your trip
Jose: My trip
Jimmy: How was it?
Jose: How was it?
Jose: Oh okay, well the first thing you do is to get in contact with a person that brings people here. Um, and they charge a specific amount of money to bring you here, okay.
Jimmy: Is is safe?
Jose: Um, I think that it all depends, I think that the time has to do with a lot of that, you understand me. Well, before, you know like ten or thirty years ago, I think it was more accessible to come here. There weren’t many problems to come here as an immigrant
Jimmy: That was thirty years ago.
Jose: It was a little bit safer. There was security, there was security when coming here, but lately like in Mexico, it is very problematic. For the last ten years, you know the Cartels and all of that are the people that do the human and drug trafficking, they are the ones that posses the control their.
Jimmy: I understand
Jose: So, now many times the news shows how their is a lot of violence their in Mexico, for territories that belong to the Cartels.
Jimmy: The Zetas, right?
Jose: Everyone, all of the Cartels from Mexico. So, they see that they work with the people, with the immigrants, those who are arriving and so sometimes the people, well it’s dangerous because those who are arriving as immigrants are being kidnapped, tortured, and being asked for money that is beyond them.
Jose: Right now, I think that in this moment they are not safe, it is a little bit difficult, as opposed to ten or fifteen years ago.
Jimmy: And in your opinion, was it something easy to travel this journey?
Jimmy: What were the difficulties?
Jose: Yes, no, yes, throughout the course there will always be difficulties, it will not be easy too.
Jimmy: I understand
Jose: Above it all, well the majority of time it was easy, but the most difficult thing is
Jose: To cross the border from Mexico to enter the United States. That is the most
Jimmy: And why is that the most difficult thing?
Jose: Their, it is more difficult because their are many ways that they pass the people from the border of Mexico to the United States. They have many forms of how to bring people through. One of the ways that I had to go through was to step into the desert and walk.
Jimmy: Hm… Wow, in the desert?
Jose: Yes, yes, in the desert. More than that, it was night time.
Jimmy: Where did you guys sleep?
Jimmy: In the desert?
Jose: Yeah, you had to seek a place
Jimmy: And what did you have, did you have your backpack, your
Jose: Yeah only
Jose: A backpack, bread, and tuna, yeah.
Jimmy: And was was the group that you were with a large one?
Jose: Yeah we were like twenty-five people
Jimmy: All men, women, children?
Jose: No, there were women, yeah, how is that called, the majority were only men and like, like about six or eight women.
Jimmy: Were you guys all from El Salvador, or from other countries as well?
Jose: No no no, we were from all over the places
Jimmy: From all the places
Jose: This is the risk we take as immigrants to come here, because sometimes you do not know who you are with because they are bad people. They do not let themselves be seen and they are always armed. They are crossing the people, always armed and they are always talking. They speak to you in a strong manner, they are violent people you know, they are the type of people that want you to do this, if not, the one who wants to play smart, they will shoot a bullet towards you. They place a gun like this and they threaten you and they place fear within you. They place fear in you. Yes, yes they are bad people.
Jimmy: Wow, could you describe to me the moment when you were in the desert. How was it like? How did you feel?
Jose: Um, um, well I felt distressed because
Jose: Because they make you go into the desert and you don’t know what will happen in their once inside. The immigration is their and you are always scared because you are hoping that they find you or get you and the only thing you want is to cross and arrive, you know.
Jose: So, you go with that mentality, but like I told you, I was in a group of twenty five people and in the end only thirteen of us went through.
Jimmy: Only thirteen?!
Jose: Only thirteen.
Jimmy: What happened to the twelve that did not go through?
Jose: Um, the rest of the group, some couldn’t endure because for three days, we were walking in the desert.
Jimmy: Three days in the desert
Jose: Three days inside the desert.
Jose: And many couldn’t resist, some stayed and others were caught by immigration because sometimes they see immigration and start running. You know in their, there is only luck you know.
Jimmy: So, those who stayed behind, did they stay with someone, or?
Jose: They stayed by themselves.
Jose: Alone, depending on luck. So that immigration may get them.
Jimmy: Because the coyote had to keep moving forward?
Jose: No, the coyote does not enter the desert, only those who work with the Cartel
Jimmy: Oh no, ah.
Jose: [Laughs] Those are other people, you know, the coyote that one decided to pay only takes you to the border of Mexico. From their, you are now a part of the Cartel. The Cartel begin to work with you.
Jimmy: Okay now that you are in the United States, what is something that you miss the most from El Salvador? Or do you miss it or no?
Jose: Hm… Well, the rest of my family I do, I do miss that, the food, and the style of life that one has over their, you now, because I think that life over here is more stressful, more fast
Jimmy: More fast
Jose: The people here never, they are always busy. Their is no sensation of being relaxed without having to worry. That is what I miss the most from my country, and that you have your own house over their
Jimmy: In your country?
Jose: Yes, that is what I miss the most, you have your own house and you do not have to worry about rent, you only worry about food and clothing.
Jimmy: Do you plan on returning to El Salvador, and why?
Jose: Yes, I would like to return to El Salvador. Um, yeah because it would be a good experience to return to the place where one was born and raised.
Jimmy: Would you go back to live their or simply visit?
Jose: Um, no, well I don’t know
Jimmy: You don’t know
Jose: I don’t know, I do not have an answer to that question right now in this moment.
Jimmy: Now, now, when you first arrived to the United States, you were sixteen years old. What were you thinking? Did you think of working? Did you want to study? What were your plans?
Jose: Um, yes, well in that moment, I the thought of continuing to study,
Jimmy: Of studying, you wanted to keep on studying?
Jose: Yes, I wanted to keep on studying.
Jimmy: What did you want to do with your studying? Did you want to become a lawyer, a doctor?
Jose: I wanted to be a history teacher, yeah
Jimmy: History Teacher
Jose: Yes, yeah that was my dream, to become a professor of social studies, or history
Jimmy: Why? Have you always liked those subjects?
Jose: Yes, I have liked them. I like to teach the things of the past and things like that.
Jimmy: I understand. So, when you first came, you enrolled in school?
Jose: Yes, thank God my mom gave me the opportunity to go and study.
Jimmy: You went to study?
Jose: Yes, I went to school for four years.
Jimmy: So, you went to high school, got your diploma
Jose: Yes, I graduated from high school
Jimmy: And did you continue by going to a university?
Jose: Um, no, due to my social status, well I couldn’t continue. It was very difficult. Well, yes there were options to continue, but, well, I felt a little depressed because I had a dream to continue studying. But when I tried to apply for a university.
Jimmy: Uh huh
Jose: And then, when I realized the costs, it was disappointing. I did not want to continue and instead I opted out and began to work.
Jimmy: So, it was the money that stopped you?
Jose: Yes, it was the money that stopped me from continuing to study. There were options, like borrowing money, but I did not like it, because this is a great country, and for them to not help you and your studies
Jimmy: You had been disappointed
Jose: Seemed like garbage to me.
Jose: More money is spent in other things and in education, never. Here they never, in fact I think that the government wants to make business from us, you know. Well, well, for someone who comes as an immigrant to this country and wants to continues his or her studies, it is no easy task. Which is why to those who have arrived here and do not have papers or anything, and have been able to overcome through their studies, I congratulate them. Because I think it is not something easy, you know.
Jimmy: I understand
Jose: If they, uh, the people that are born here, you know, don’t do much, but a person who comes here without any documents and achieves to have graduated from a university from here in the United States, they do five times the work than someone that was born here, you know.
Jimmy: Due to their obstacles, wow.
Jose: Yes, you know.
Jimmy: Due to their present status.
Jose: Uh-huh, yes, if you do one percent, they have to do ten times more than you, and it is not something easy to do.
Start at 16min 15sec talks about if they taught about the war in schools
Jimmy: When you were in school, over their in El Salvador, did they teach you guys about why their was so much war?
Jimmy: Did they teach you guys when you were studying, why their was so much war, a lot of violence in El Salvador or?
Jose: If they taught these things in school?
Jose: Um, well, they really didn’t teach about that. Well in regards to the war, they did teach us about the war, it’s motives and all of that, but well it wasn’t that important.
Jimmy: Yes, yes
Jose: Well, in school they taught what was supposed to be taught you know, the normal.
Jimmy: The normal
Jose: Like here
Jose: Like here, well they would teach about it like a topic to discuss about, I don’t know, for maybe about six weeks and that’s it, you know.
Jimmy: That’s it
Jose: They talk about the civil war, and the independence of the United States more than anything. In regards to recent wars, they don’t say much.
Jimmy: I understand, and
Jose: It wouldn’t benefit them [laughs]
Jimmy: It wouldn’t benefit them, oh man. [laughs]
Jimmy: So, what do you think about the situation right now, in regards to immigration? The opportunities that the people have when they are here? Do you think they come to a country, where for them it is something or a place where they can succeed, are their to many limitations, what do you think about that?
Jose: Okay yes, I think that coming here as an immigrant to this country, their are many limitations for us.
Jimmy: Like which ones?
Jose: Um okay, you know that by not having a social security it is very difficult to find a good job. Um, you do not have many privileges like being able to get a licence or the ability to travel freely, you know without fear. It is very difficult you know, in fact to even rent a place to live, you sometimes even need papers
Jose: If you do not have a number, no one wants to give you a place to rent to your name. You always want to give rent to someone who has papers. You know.
Jimmy: Prior to coming
Jose: Many things
Jimmy: Prior to coming to the United States, did you think that this was how it was going to be?
Jose: No no.
Jimmy: Or did you think.
Jose: No no, I had never imagined that. I had imagined many things of how it was going to be here, for example, I thought that I was going to have a house,
Jose: You know that having a house, it is no easy task you know, to be a proprietary of house. So, okay that is how I thought, I had expected that
Jimmy: You were going to be able to buy your own house
Jose: That I was going to have my house, my room, my garage and everything, you know. Not to have to pay so much money for rent and all of that. I had never imagined the high cost of living here.
Jimmy: Wow, and when you first came to the United States, or when you had finished studying better said, um, where did you begin to work?
Jose: Um well, I began to seek work and in whatever you know
Jimmy: In whatever
Jose: I did not have a specific field that I wanted to work in. I only wanted to work, but just didn’t know where.
Jose: The idea was to start making money
Jimmy: Um, with the money that you earned, did you send part of it to El Salvador?
Jose: Well, well, I have never helped anyone from my country because, mhm, in reality they are all doing okay. They are poor you know, but they are living, they work and all and they have enough to manage, you know.
Jimmy: And when you first started working, did your employers treat you with, let’s say kindliness?
Jose: No, when you are an immigrant, all the jobs know that you do not have a good social, so because they know, they always take advantage of you, you know.
Jose: In one way or another they always pressure you
Jimmy: The employers?
Jose: So that you can give the maximum, so that you can keep your job, you know. That will always remain
Jimmy: And the immigrant cannot do anything?
Jose: Well, yes yes, here you are able to complain and all of that, but what’s the point
Jimmy: Maybe because they will not listen to you
Jose: Um yes that is what I think, nothing will happen, it is not even worth it
Jimmy: Simply because one does not have the papers
Jose: Yeah exactly, there isn’t much
Jose: Yeah yes, the people do not respect you and so they always want to take advantage of you because of the status you possess. Even though it is not directly right, they will not tell you this directly, but their is always the sensation that someone who is working their legally, will get treated better than someone who does not have, you know.
Jimmy: Does not have
Jose: And they will want for the one that does not have to work more than the one who does have, you know, the one who has papers. The one who is legal and the one who is illegal, there will always be a difference their.
Jimmy: A difference
Jimmy: Wow, wow
Jose: But that is how life is you know
Jimmy: Here in the United States
Jose: Yes, but I do not get weary
Jimmy: You do not get weary
Jose: But that is how life is, and when life is like this, you have to learn to adapt to how it is, you do not want to step out of the norm.
Jimmy: Of course, of course
Jose: Exactly, well that is one what has, no choice. It is like one is in life, but it’s okay nothing happens.
Jimmy: Yes yes, I understand.
Jimmy: So, now that you are here, you have been here for twelve years I believe
Jimmy: No, yes twelve years here in the United States, um have you had the opportunity of becoming a citizen?
Jose: Well, okay I have tried, well, because I am married to an American you know,
Jimmy: An American
Jose: My wife is American and she has an American passport. I am trying to see if she can ask for me, I am trying to see how I can solve my status in this country and I hope to one day achieve it you know.
Jimmy: Yes, is the process difficult?
Jose: Yes, the process is difficult, due to the way that I came to this country, because those who enter through plane legally, for them it is more easy. However, for those who come through land, if their is no law to protect one
Jimmy: It is very difficult
Jose: It is very difficult, yeah
Jimmy: Wow and so now you have a wife?
Jose: Unless their is an amnesty [laughs]
Jimmy: An amnesty [laughs] yes yes, 1983 I believe their was an amnesty
Jose: Yes their was one in 1999
Jimmy: Uh-huh and
Jose: But since then there has not been any
Jimmy: Now you have a family, do you have any children, boys or girls?
Jose: Yes I have a daughter
Jimmy: A daughter
Jose: And I have a wife
Jimmy: A wife, wow. So now you tend to them, you help them?
Jose: Yes normal, yes, of course, like any other family.
Jimmy: Like any other family
Jose: When you form a home, you have to do what the man has to do, you know.
Jimmy: Of course [laughs]
Jose: [laughs] You are the man of the house, of course, family is family you know.
Jimmy: And your daughter was born here, right?
Jimmy: Your daughter was born here in the United States?
Jimmy: Yes, she has papers?
Jose: Yes she does
Jimmy: Do you think that she will have better opportunities than let’s say that you had when you were growing up?
Jose: Yes of course
Jimmy: Of course
Jose: Yes, of course, I hope she takes advantage of them, yeah.
Jimmy: If you were in, or had you not came over here where do you think you would be in El Salvador?
Jose: Um, okay, perhaps I would be working with my dad
Jimmy: Oh, your father is in El Salvador?
Jose: Yes, my father is in El Salvador
Jimmy: In El Salvador
Jose: Uh-huh, I think that I would have been working with my father
Jimmy: Ahh I understand
Jose: In the company that he works
Jimmy: Ah, and do you miss your father?
Jimmy: Yes, a lot?
Jose: It was with him that I was grew up with.
Jimmy: You grew up with him, of course because your mother was here in the United States
Jimmy: Oh wow, do you still keep in touch with him?
Jose: I speak with him every now and then
Jimmy: Would you like to bring him here one day or maybe he doesn’t want to come?
Jose: Um, or go and visit him or bring him here, but he does not want to travel here.
Jimmy: He does not want to come here
Jose: No he doesn’t
Jimmy: He doesn’t
Jose: He’s okay over there [laughs]
Jimmy: He’s okay over their?
Jimmy: Oh okay, that’s good
Jose: He feels good being over their
Jimmy: Yes yes, and now talk to me about your future? About your, your dreams? I know that you work, but what are your goals now? You now have your family
Jose: Okay, um,
Jimmy: Where do you see yourself ten years from now or something like that?
Jose: Okay yes, maybe, well, um,
Jimmy: What are your dreams, maybe getting those papers?
Jose: Yes, my dream is to get something at least to change my immigration status you know, and then I don’t know, seek a better job.
Jose: Something better you know
Jimmy: Once you get that status changed, you can, say
Jose: There are more opportunities for you
Jimmy: More opportunities?
Jose: Yes, logically of course. Maybe I won’t be able to find them fast or something like that, it may take time, but it is something that you are sure of, finding better opportunities work wise, maybe better respect, you know. In some places they ask you for a type of identification and the only thing that one has is a passport, you know.
Jose: And the people look at you weird because that is the only thing you have
Jose: So, maybe some more respect in that form you know, because it is not the same to show a passport as opposed to show some form of identification from this country of yours.
Jimmy: What would it mean for you to have those type of papers?
Jimmy: Of being a citizen, what would that mean to you?
Jose: Oh yeah, it would mean a lot for me, of course.
Jimmy: How would you feel?
Jose: A lot because, well because of course your life would improve, you know. It is something that, when something improves your life, it becomes very significant, you know.
Jimmy: Of course
Jose: It is something that is very important
Jimmy: So, that is something you see in the future?
Jimmy: Envisioning yourself a citizen of this country, of the United States
Jose: Yes, but you know, I think like that, but, and I want to keep on thinking like that.
Jose: I don’t think that I am a bad person. Many people are immigrants, and they give them their papers and everything, but many of them do not take advantage of that opportunity that they have, and are doing bad things, you know.
Jimmy: Oh do you know people that
Jose: No, it is not that I know them, but those types of cases sometimes happen you know.
Jimmy: Mhm, and you wish that
Jose: Maybe they don’t want to work anymore because they now have their number and they want the government to tend to them.
Jose: Disability and all of that, you know.
Jimmy: It is not good
Jose: Yeah, makes the Hispanic community look bad, you know
Jimmy: Yes, yes, mhm, so,
Jose: But anyways, that is the way it is
Jimmy: And how are you doing right now, presently?
Jose: Good thank God, what mostly interests me is to have health and work. Right now I am healthy and have work, so I feel good.
Jimmy: You feel good
Jimmy: How good, how good, do you work everyday or do you have?
Jose: No, I only work a part time, yeah
Jimmy: Oh okay
Jose: I earn enough for my expenses, it’s sufficient, even to put some in savings
Jimmy: And the good thing is that you know both languages, English and Spanish?
Jose: More or less yeah
Jose: I understand enough to speak it a little.
Jimmy: Yeah, yeah, um do you think that you are living the American Dream right now?
Jimmy: Or for you, what is the American dream [laughs]
Jose: [laughs] Tell you the truth, I do not think their such a thing as the American Dream
Jimmy: [laughs] That does not exist
Jose: [laughs] That does not exist [Laughing] The American Dream, you yourself are the creator of that.
Jimmy: Yeah [laughs]
Jose: There is no American Dream
Jimmy: What do you think when you hear that?
Jose: What would the American Dream be for you?
Jimmy: To have a house, a family, working, to have an education.
Jose: Ah okay, well, okay that’s good
Jimmy: For you, what would the American dream be?
Jose: There is none [laughs]
Jose: For me their is no American Dream
Jimmy: And in El Salvador, did they talk a lot about that?
Jose: Yes, but they are only sayings
Jimmy: They are fantasies, it is not real
Jose: Fantasies, yeah
Jimmy: Because once you are here it is a whole different story?
Jose: Yeah, exactly, they don’t know [laughs] But yes, like I have told you, if someone comes with a positive mind, and the mentality of overcoming, that is all one needs.
Jimmy: So, you are not regretful for coming over here to the United States to live your life?
Jose: No, I do not regret it
Jimmy: You do not regret it
Jose: Because I am better here
Jimmy: As opposed to being in El Salvador
Jose: Yeah, in El Salvador, my life would be much more difficult in El Salvador than here [laughs] Even if I am working
Jimmy: Even though you feel the pressure
Jose: Even if I am working the most difficult jobs, to say it like that
Jose: But even then, I would be better off here than if I were still over their
Jose: Even though I am doing that job
Jimmy: Yeah yeah
Jose: Yeah [laughs] that’s the truth
Jimmy: Even though, like you had mentioned earlier that over here, you are under a lot of pressure, and life is fast, but even though that accompanies life here, it is still worth it?
Jose: Yes, it is still worth it because over their, well, like say you have a family and all of that, you have to go work in order to bring food to your home. Over their, there isn’t much work and if there is work over their, it is very heavy and the pay isn’t enough.
Jimmy: It’s not enough
Jose: Yeah, and you work like an animal.
Jimmy: Like an animal. Did you work when you were in El Salvador?
Jose: No I never worked their
Jimmy: Never, how good
Jose: Yeah, but my father taught me how to do things, how to work and all of that. To not be lazy.
Jimmy: Lazy yeah, yeah, I don’t think their are a lot of lazy people over their in Central America?
Jimmy: Everyone knows how to work
Jose: Knows how to work, they can adapt to any type of job, you know.
Jose: They push forward
Jose: [laughs] Those who are born here right,
Jimmy: [laughs] Are lazy?
Jose: They haven’t experienced anything. A small type of job
Jose: [laughs] Right? They, they don’t know that in other places, life is way worse.
Jimmy: Yeah, yeah
Jose: They don’t appreciate it
Jimmy: Yeah, yeah
Jose: Yeah oh well, changing subject
Jimmy: Perfect, perfect, okay, um, uh, right I don’t know if you mentioned your name [laughs] but introduce yourself
Jose: Okay, my name is Jose, Jose Izaguirre and I am Salvadorian
Jimmy: And proud? [laughs]
Jose: [laughs] And proud, and yeah
Jose: Yeah, I will never forget, I am proud of where I come from
Jimmy: Of course, of course. Thank you very much Jose, it was a pleasure to know more about your story, your dreams, your present, of what you overcame in order to come to this nation
Jimmy: And I appreciate your time, I wish you
Jose: Yeah, your welcome
Jimmy: I wish you a good future, to keep moving forward with your family and yeah
Jose: Thank you, you too, that you may graduate, move forward in your studies and represent the Hispanic community
Jimmy: [laughs] Come on! Thank you, thank you, okay.