Fleeing 2,075 miles

Student escapes Guatemala out of fear

Story by Ximena Ibarra, Reporter

Two years ago, junior Sam García fled Coatepeque, Guatemala to Pittsburg through mountains, deserts and rivers to seek safety from gang violence, but his stay in the U.S. is not guaranteed.

Due to the sensitivity of the matter, all names have been withdrawn to protect their privacy. The Booster Redux introduced Sam’s story in the October issue.

Sam lived with his two siblings and grandfather. His mother, Ana García, left their hometown and immigrated to the U.S. to send money back to their family.

Though he had siblings, they went to separate schools and Sam traveled to school alone.

On his way home from school in Coatepeque, Sam was confronted by a group of five to six members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a prominent gang, that threatened him.

“They told me that I’d have to be a part of their group, and I said no,” Sam said.

If joined, Sam would be forced to hold Guatemalan citizens for ransom. When he denied, they continued to threaten him on his way to school. Sam attempted to avoid the gang.

“I would go at 7:30 in the morning and they would be there,” Sam said. “I would wait for an hour so I wouldn’t run into them.”

The threats persisted and influenced his decision to leave.

Without telling his family, Sam prepared to pursue safety with his mother in America. Sam saved money given to him by his mother and used it on his 2,075 mile long journey.

“I left nervous and afraid because I was alone. At the same time I felt sad because I was leaving my family in Guatemala,” Sam said.

Sam spent approximately a month traveling through Mexico and enduring changes of weather.

I left nervous and afraid because I was alone. At the same time I felt sad because I was leaving my family in Guatemala.

— Sam Garcia

“The path was difficult because I had to pass through the rain and cold alone,” Sam said. “I found some people on the way and together we gathered money to rent a hotel room.”

The night he arrived to the US-Mexico border, he, along with other immigrants, had to pay about $800 to $1,000 each to someone who guided them through.

“There was lots of trees with thorns,” Sam said. “I couldn’t see the path.”

Despite finding immigrants along the way, he felt frightened.

“I was scared to cross the river because it was very big,” Sam said. “I was scared to get lost, I wouldn’t have anyone.”

Sam successfully swam across the cold, dark and rapid moving Rio Grande, the river on the US-Mexico border, but after walking for roughly 30 minutes, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers detained and transported him to a detention center in Texas.

“[ICE officials] treated me fine but I saw others that weren’t,” Sam said. “I didn’t like how they kept us locked up.”

During his journey, Ana assumed he was safe at his aunt’s house in Guatemala, but was later informed otherwise.

“I was surprised when ICE asked me if I sent one of my children to come here. I said no,” Ana said.

Ana was able to take Sam back to Pittsburg due to the “catch and release” law. This allows detained undocumented immigrants to remain within the U.S. while their case is disputed in court.

Laws pertaining to Central American immigrants have been contested.

President Trump attempted to terminate the “catch and release” law through bills proposed earlier this year, but the law continues.

“Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country — and it finally ends the dangerous practice of “‘catch and release,’” Trump said in the State of the Union address this year.

Sam is applying for a legal status, and believes the immigration process is difficult with Trump.

Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country…

— Donald J. Trump

“It’s a lot harder now for the immigrants because they are fighting for their cases just like me,” Sam said. “There are many that lose their cases and get sent back to their countries.”

CNN reports that Trump denounced the current immigration system on Feb. 6 at a White House event.

“Not another country in the world has the stupidity of laws that we do when it comes to immigration,” Trump said.

Trump claimed gang members would “just come right through” the southern border at the same meeting.

“MS-13 recruits through our broken immigration system, violating our borders, and it just comes right through. Whenever they want to come through, they come through,” Trump said.

Trump has also deployed the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border as reported on April 4 by NBC. Though the troops will not have physical contact with immigrants, this action is intended to secure the border.

“Deploying the National Guard will serve as an immediate deterrent while dramatically enhancing operational control of the U.S. border,” said the statement from the office of the Department of Homeland [DHS] press secretary.

NPR reports on March 28 that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also taken action to speed up deportations by implementing quotas for immigration judges and overruling judges.

Immigration judges put immigrants in administrative closure. This permits judges to put deportations on hold indefinitely, which is something Sessions has criticized.

“Basically they have legalized the person who was coming to court, because they were illegally in the country,” Sessions said during a speech in December.

Sessions is also limiting who qualifies for asylum in the U.S. Asylum is a legal status granted by a nation to a person who left their country as a refugee.

Sam described feeling safer after leaving the detention center, but he still feels at risk of going back to Guatemala.

“It still feels bad to live here undocumented because we’re in danger,” Sam said. “We could be walking down the street and we could be deported at any time.