One of the things that has surprised me thus far—though it shouldn’t have—was the amount of people I’ve met here at La Setenta Dos that have already been to the United States. It’s difficult to say how many, but based on my very limited, very anecdotal evidence, it seems like a good number.
The implications of this are quite terrible, for a number of reasons.
The first, and most apparent, is that no one should ever had to go through what they go through once, let alone multiple times. Risking their lives, living in fear, enduring physical and emotional pain, feeling unwelcome, begging for food—the list is not a good one. The journey for Central and South Americans to reach the United States is not a tale of adventure, complete with romance and triumph, narrowly escaping danger with comical flippancy; this is not Star Wars or Pirates of the Caribbean. Their journey is dangerous, tiresome, deflating, and unsettling, producing very few winners and even fewer without scrapes and scars.
But that’s just part of the journey. As is evident by the amount of repeat travelers, arriving in the United States does not guarantee continued living in the United States. Those who do not have documentation live every day in fear of a traffic ticket or accidental brush with law enforcement because it could be the day that they’re sent back to the very place they fled. In a moment—any moment—they could be “found out” and deported, torn from their new life and forced to go back.
Go back to what, though?
I spoke with some men who had been in the United States for five, ten, even twenty years. One guy came as a teenager, graduated from high school in California, lived and worked for five years after high school before being deported. Where is this 23 year-old, having lived in the United States for eight years, going to go? How is he expected to make a livelihood in a country where he now knows very few people has nothing to his name to start with?
The fact of the matter, no matter the legal or ethical code one adheres to when it comes to immigration, is that many of those who have fled their country and arrived in the United States have no other home than the United States. They have no “home” to be deported to: their family, friends, possessions, job, and really, experience, all exist in the United States. In speaking with some of the migrants here, that was what gave me the greatest punch to the gut. Not only are they fleeing the violence and oppression that instigated their original departure, but many of them are also fleeing in a desperate attempt to return to the ones they love who had not be deported.
With that on their minds, the fact that they have to risk violence, go hungry, and face abuse along the way—terrible things for anyone to endure even once, let along two or three times—becomes an almost commonplace experience, a perpetual uphill journey. Been there, done that. Whatever it takes to get home.