Asylum seekers freed on the streets of El Paso recall near-death experiences in Panama’s Darien Gap and evading Mexican authorities even with permits in hand
EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Reina Gil said she will fondly remember the border town of El Paso once she reaches her destination inside the United States.
“fino cruzamos (We went through just fine). The United States of America received us very warmly,” said Gil, a Venezuelan citizen who waits in El Paso to catch a bus to Utah with her daughter, granddaughter and other members of his extended family.
But the journey that took them through several countries on their way is something she and other Venezuelan migrants who crossed the Rio Grande to El Paso earlier this month said they would like to forget but won’t. probably not.
“There’s a lot of corruption and bad stuff out there,” Gil said. “We have seen deaths. A river nearly drowned us. We have been robbed. We heard of rapes and many horrible things. I tell you this so that people know that it is not easy to get here.
In extended interviews with KTSM and Border Report, some of the hundreds of Venezuelan migrants freed by US immigration authorities from the streets of El Paso over the past few days agreed that the worst part of the journey was walking. in the jungle in Panama and constantly having to pay the “carriers” (smugglers) in Mexico.
They also said that ten years ago they would never have imagined having to leave their own jobs and homes to endure hardships in other countries in order to find a new place of safety and opportunity. What changed? Two consecutive populist presidential administrations – Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro – which decided to redistribute wealth and would have wiped out the economy of a country holding 17.5% of the world’s oil reserves.
“I was an administrator, I worked in an oilfield,” Gil said. “In just 40 days you could buy a car in Venezuela, but when the government changed hands, the companies left.”
Her too. Unable to adequately support his family when wages plummeted to just $28 a month, Gil moved to Peru. She did not work in an office but cleaned buildings and cooked food for others. “You learn to serve,” she surmised.
But when a better opportunity presents itself, you seize it. When Gil and other Venezuelans heard that the United States might let them in, they decided to march north with their families.
Survive the “Jungle Inferno”
The Darien Gap is a 60-mile roadless stretch between Colombia and Panama with dense rainforest, rugged mountains and swamps. In recent years, it has become a major transit point for migrants from South America bound for the United States, according to the nonprofit Council on Foreign Relations.
“Once you’re in, you can’t go back,” Gil said. “There are no toilets, the camps are run by Indian tribes and everything costs $5 – food, water. If they see young women, they don’t let them go. They prostitute them. It’s something ugly.
Gerardo, from Tachira, Venezuela, also left his country a few years ago to find a better paying job in Chile. A few months ago, he too decided to find a better life in the United States.
Gerardo documented his group’s passage through the Darien Gap. He showed Border Report cellphone videos and footage of muddy roads, canyon-edge trails and young men helping older fellow travelers sort through many hills.
“When you go out, people cry, they hug. You have mixed feelings because you’re doing something that not everyone else can do. You see people getting dehydrated, starving, unable to walk because their feet swell up. People just leave them there,” Gerardo said.
He agrees that migrants are exploited in the camps along the trail. “Everything costs money. […] You have to bring money, otherwise things get complicated,” he said.
Gil said first-time migrants are rarely prepared to travel such long distances over rough terrain. The equivalent of running the distance of three marathons takes walkers eight to 12 days to cover the Darien Gaps, the migrants said.
“It’s mountain after mountain. We carried our luggage and we had to abandon it. We were left with nothing but the clothes they had on their backs, Gil said. “We have met good people who have helped us, but also very bad people who take advantage and take advantage of you. But there is a God up there who sees everything.
‘Permits, what permits?’
Gerardo said he passed through nine countries which he attempted to cross legally – obtaining humanitarian permits. However, he says that the authorities in some of these countries are not interested in helping migrants, but rather in exploiting them.
“Sometimes there’s no choice but to hire a (smuggler) because they don’t care if you have a permit,” he said, estimating the cost of his trip at between 2,000 and $2,500. In Mexico, “we had to go around eight checkpoints because they stop you or deport you”.
He described how he and his fellow travelers were taken by a van driver to southern Mexico and told to walk part of the way to avoid checkpoints and then be picked up again.
The companions’ plan was to cross the American border at Piedras Negras-Eagle Pass, but they were told that the Rio Grande was carrying too much water and could be dangerous. In Juarez the river was low, so they took a bus from Mexico City to the border. Twenty-eight hours later, an acquaintance who had already made the trip gives them the contact of a taxi driver who takes them directly to the banks of the Rio Grande.
“We saw the wall, we started running and we crossed,” Gerardo said. “We got caught in the rain, we got our feet wet in the river but we made it (here). We have achieved the goal.
Gerardo took a bus from El Paso and was in Dallas on Friday afternoon.