About three years ago my brother in law, Andres, decided to leave his family (my sister and her three children) to make his way to the United States. He had such high hopes. He wanted to come here, work and save up some money to send back to his family so that my eldest niece, Melissa, could have a beautiful quinceañera. El Salvador, our home country, is full of violence and gangs usually rob anyone making any type of money. These conditions make it difficult enough for anyone to save up to pay for their water and electricity, much less a quinceañera. So with the help of his brother, who was already in the United States, and my mother, they helped him come up with the $2,500 the coyote was asking for. $2,500 for a month of “illegally migrating” to the United States. The Land Of the Free.
Every night the coyote would allow the people he was guiding make one call to their family members to let them know they were all right. Every night for 23 days he made a call and talked to my niece and told her that one day they would be together again. That he would pay for her beautiful quinceañera dress and her cake and all the food she would need for the guests. The last night that Melissa ever heard from her dad, he sent her a video of a quinceañera party. The quinceañera had a beautiful blue dress on and the song playing was a tear-inducing song about a father seeing his daughter grow up.
We didn’t hear from him again for three days. On the third night, his cousin- whom he had been traveling with- called. They had just arrived to McAllen, Texas on foot from Mexico. They were in the desert and Andres couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group. He was too dehydrated. He collapsed and the group left him in the desert, they thought maybe ICE would patrol around there and find him. They didn’t.
I was in my dorm room when I got the call from my mom. She was frantic and I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. My dad took the phone from her and said, “Mija, Andresito esta perdido en el desierto. Ahí algo que tú puedes hacer? Le puedes llamar a migración para que lo vayan a buscar? La ultima vez que lo vieron era en McAllen en Texas.” My dad said they had left him in the desert 2 days prior. When he told me that I knew he had to be dead. As dehydrated as he supposedly was, his body would not have lasted long under the blazing heat of the sun. But I called anyway. They sent out a search party the next day. It took ICE 4 days to find his body. By the time they did, he had already been partially eaten by wild animals. When they found him, one of his hands was at his heart the other was stretched out to his side. My mom took that to mean he was thinking of the heartache his death would bring to the family. She said he must have been reaching out to them. His brother drove to McAllen, Tx from North Carolina to identify the body. After that, we had to pay $3,000 to have his body sent back to El Salvador so he could be buried.
See that is how criminalization of migration works. It kills people. It forces people to take life-endangering risks for a chance at a better life. And if the folks migrating are not killed on route to their destination, if they get to their destination, they still risk dying because most of the jobs they can get hired for, without papers, are also dangerous. Meat-factory work, fieldwork, prostitution, etc. All jobs that can end in death. And if the people migrating are caught by ICE? They will be detained indefinitely, most likely sent back to the country the fled from. I don’t know much about other countries and how deportees are treated there, but I do know that in El Salvador if you are sent back or you willingly go back, gangs see no difference. They will assume you have money. And if you don’t have what they want, you are dead. Families have been brutally slaughtered. Women and children have been raped and tortured. Whole families have been decapitated. All because of the meanings we have placed behind the word “immigration.”
Everyday there are more and more articles talking about how white people from other countries come to the United States to work and they are treated like high class citizens. They are called expats and treated like professionals: with respect and dignity. But if people of color are trying to make their way to the United States to work, they are met with resistance, with hatred, with racism, etc. Expats are provided with an easy path to dual citizenship while people of color spend decades trying to do the same.