Five Venezuelan males walked collectively at midnight, looking for the deal with US immigration officers had given them. It was virtually midnight in downtown Sacramento, a metropolis that they had by no means heard of and an surprising vacation spot.
Considered one of them, Juan, 29, who requested for his actual title to be withheld out of concern of jeopardizing his asylum request, had anticipated to finish up in New York. He’d spent greater than a month on the journey from Venezuela to the US-Mexico border.
However proper then, he simply needed a roof over his head – one thing an immigration agent promised him earlier than his launch from a detention heart in Eagle Go, Texas.
The group noticed the deal with however earlier than they may even knock on the glass door, a tall man in a blue uniform stopped them. It was Derek Smith, a 36-year previous safety guard, and Juan shortly confirmed him the federal government paperwork that included the deal with. Smith didn’t converse Spanish, however he acknowledged the despair of their eyes, he mentioned.
“I pulled out my translator and I went from English to Spanish. I wrote, ‘This isn’t a shelter, that is an workplace constructing.’ They responded, ‘Sure, however we had been despatched right here’ and saved exhibiting me their paperwork,” Smith mentioned.
“So I advised them, ‘Come again by 7am and I’ll have extra info.’”
He indicated a close-by park. In order that they walked there, the place dozens of unhoused folks slept on the bottom or in soiled tents.
At that, one in all Juan’s exhausted group fell to his knees and cried. They roughed it, however Juan couldn’t sleep and requested himself all evening what he was doing there.
Different asylum seekers are being bussed to New York with out that essentially being their alternative, or Chicago, or Washington – or Martha’s Winery, in strikes by the Republican governors of Texas, Arizona and, currently, Florida to make a press release about immigration.
However Juan mystifyingly ended up within the California state capital. He’s a part of a mass exodus fleeing hazard, starvation amid financial collapse, political oppression or the entire above in Nicolás Maduro’s crisis-torn, authoritarian Venezuela.
His journey began, he mentioned, at his house in Táchira, in north-west Venezuela, when he refused to affix the insurgent Nationwide Liberation Military, a Marxist guerrilla group that operates alongside the border with Colombia.
Armed guerrillas threatened to hurt his household if he didn’t go away Táchira inside 20 days, so on 7 August, he mentioned goodbye to his 14-year previous daughter, different mates and family members and set out for the US with the equal of $80 in his pocket – an quantity he mentioned he struggled to make in three months.
Juan glided by bus to Medellín, Colombia, then north by bus and boat till he braced himself to stroll throughout the mountains of the notorious Darién Hole, roadless jungle connecting Panama with South America that tens of 1000’s of migrants danger their lives every month to traverse.
“It’s hell. You see cadavers. Determined folks steal meals from different folks. At evening, when you find yourself tenting, you hear folks screaming for assist,” Juan mentioned.
After a stretch of 4 days with out meals and cash, Juan earned some cash by cleansing restrooms to pay for a ship experience from Panama to Costa Rica. It then took him about two weeks to achieve Guatemala Metropolis, the place somebody helped him purchase a bus ticket to southern Mexico and from there he finally reached Nuevo Laredo, on the border with Texas in late August.
“We had been virtually about to cross the Rio Grande after we had been kidnapped,” he mentioned. Drug and smuggling cartels prey on migrants close to the border, typically shaking them down for cash. He was let go after two days, threatened with loss of life if he got here again into city, he mentioned. He fled additional again into Mexico, then clung to the highest of a freight practice often called La Bestia and ended up again on the border 100 miles additional west, the place he safely crossed the treacherous river and surrendered to US authorities at Eagle Go.
There, he exercised his authorized proper to hunt asylum. For the subsequent three days, Juan slept beneath a Mylar blanket inside a frigid border patrol cell that migrants typically seek advice from as a hielera, or ice field, earlier than being transferred to a detention heart then bussed to a shelter in San Antonio.
On 15 September, Juan was advised by metropolis officers on the metropolis’s migrant useful resource heart – the identical place the Venezuelans taken to Martha’s Winery earlier this month mentioned they had been lured from – that there was a aircraft to board.
“They [immigration officials] requested, ‘The place do you need to go?’ I mentioned, ‘New York.’ However after they gave us the paperwork, it mentioned Sacramento,” Juan mentioned. Out of cash and choices, he took the ticket.
On the aircraft, Juan and the opposite 4 Venezuelans he’d met had been discussing how they might get from the Sacramento airport into city. All had been broke. However a feminine passenger overheard the dialog and, Juan mentioned, provided all of the money in her purse: $24. It was sufficient for a bus experience, 11 miles to downtown Sacramento, the place they ended up within the park.
At 6.50am the next morning, the boys went again and Smith, the guard, who was about to finish his shift, gave them one other deal with.
After traversing seven international locations, strolling three extra miles in footwear riddled with holes was okay, and the deal with turned out to be the Sacramento meals financial institution & household providers non-profit. There was breakfast obtainable. And somebody turned up from NorCal Resist, a gaggle of activists who supply authorized, academic and housing providers to immigrants.
“This was the primary time having folks present up in Sacramento with paperwork for a shelter that doesn’t exist,” mentioned Autumn Gonzalez, a volunteer lawyer serving to with asylum claims.
Juan was baffled about why the final stretch of his journey had been so disturbing.
“We had been attempting to do issues proper, just like the paper says, however we discovered that the deal with was not proper. Why would they try this to us, if we include such good intentions?” Juan advised the Guardian.
NorCal Resist put Juan up in a lodge, the secure, heat mattress finally. He advised the Guardian that, whether or not he leads to New York or staying in Sacramento, he’s optimistic about his asylum declare. Gonzalez concurred that Juan has a “sturdy declare”.