Coronavirus Essential Worker

‘Either I Risk It All Or Nothing At All’: Migrant Workers’ Need To Work Outweighs COVID-19 Concerns

Above: Samuel Gomez sits at the hotel where he and 100 or so other migrant farmworkers are living. Dana Cronin/Illinois Newsroom

On the outskirts of Rantoul, in east-central Illinois, about 100 migrant farmworkers are living at an old hotel in a sleepy part of town.

Every day at the crack of dawn, Samuel Gomez and the rest of the crew get their temperatures checked on the way out the door. Most workers, donning masks, load onto a big yellow school bus for a 30-minute drive to a large warehouse, where they will spend the day sorting corn coming in on large conveyor belts.

Gomez, who is from Mexico, is one of the lucky few with access to a car, so he drives to work with his dad and sister. He’s been here all summer, starting in the field roguing corn — removing diseased and off-type corn plants to increase the quality of the crop. Since September, he’s been working in the warehouse.

In the U.S., an estimated two to three million farmworkers plant, cultivate and harvest crops each year. Among them are migratory workers, like Gomez, who often leave behind family and friends for months at a time to find work that pays more than what they could earn back home.

The long hours and physical demands make the job risky any year, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it even riskier. Outbreaks across the U.S. linked to farms have some worried about the lack of protections for workers, upon whom the nation relies for food.

All the rooms on the first floor of this hotel-turned-migrant camp are quarantine rooms, reserved for possible COVID-19 cases. Christine Herman | Illinois Newsroom

‘It’s not the same air I breathed last season’

Gomez, 32, has been traveling to Illinois as a migrant worker for four years. When he’s working in the warehouse, he says he earns $12 an hour cleaning and sanitizing the facility — about double what he could make working in retail in Mexico.

Before he arrived in Illinois in June, he didn’t know anyone who had contracted the coronavirus, so he says he wasn’t too concerned.

“Truthfully, I was surprised when people would talk about it… It was something that didn’t exist, until I realized that it did,” Gomez says in Spanish.

Since June, there have been 21 COVID-19 cases linked to the hotel where Gomez and an entire crew of migrant workers are living, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, which tracks COVID-19 cases across Champaign County. The hotel is tied for third largest outbreak in the county, based on internal statewide public health data from July through September obtained by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

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When Gomez arrived and witnessed the outbreak first-hand, he says the threat became very real, and he and his colleagues started taking the requirement for mask-wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene more seriously.

Gomez says the warehouse looks different this year with fewer workers to allow for enough spacing to keep everyone safe. He says everyone is masked, and in general, he feels safe.

But he still worries about elderly workers, including his 66-year-old dad, because they share the same hotel room and work near each other.

“I worry about my dad because he’s older,” Gomez says. “I’m cautious for myself and for them. It’s what I can do.”

Josh, 24, also works at the corn processing plant. He asked that we use only his first name because he fears retaliation. Josh is an American. Born and raised in Texas, he grew up in a migrant family as the oldest of four children. He wanted to study to become a medical assistant after high school but says when he graduated, his dad got sick and was unable to work. With his family in need of support, Josh now spends most of the year traveling around the country for work.

He says being in Rantoul for the harvest season this year feels different. Since the outbreak, there’s been less socializing: no cookouts or parties.

“You can smell the air in the mornings and it just feels way different,” Josh says. “It’s not the same air I breathed last season, you know, you feel it.”

He also worries about COVID-19, but says he doesn’t have a choice when it comes to work. His family depends on him, and he hopes to save up so that one day he may be able to go to college.

“Either I risk it all or nothing at all,” he says. “I want to leave something behind… I’m not gonna give up.”

Every day, this crew of migrant workers takes a 30-minute ride on a school bus to the job site: a warehouse where they sort good corn from bad corn. Dana Cronin | Illinois Newsroom

No choice but to work

Many migrant workers make double what they could at jobs closer to home. It’s a prospect they simply can’t turn down, says Sylvia Partida, CEO of the National Center for Farmworker Health.

“Economic necessity… [is] what it comes down to,” she says. “This is their work and they rely on this work to survive.”

For migratory workers like Samuel Gomez and Josh, Partida says the risk of contracting the coronavirus is heightened — they often travel in large groups, live in congregate housing and are unfamiliar with the local resources available to them.

“There’s been a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty,” she says. “[They’re] relying on organizations that might be able to assist them as they try to learn how to safeguard themselves.”

Partida’s organization has been tracking COVID-19 outbreaks among migrant and seasonal farmworkers — who are largely low-income and Latino — around the country. So far, outbreaks in 17 states, including several in the Midwest, have been documented in media reports. But because there isn’t an official tracking system in place, this unofficial count is likely an underestimation, Partida says.

The Food and Environment Reporting Network, which keeps a tally of COVID-19 outbreaks across the nation’s food system, reports more than 8,000 confirmed cases among U.S. farmworkers. Researchers from Purdue University, working in collaboration with Microsoft, estimate that the true number of coronavirus cases among U.S. farmworkers is much higher — about 140,000 — a number they arrived at by applying county-level infection rates to the number of farmworkers and farmers believed to be working in those counties.

In Illinois, COVID-19 cases among farmworkers are not closely tracked, but a clinic that caters to migrant and seasonal farmworkers reports that out of roughly 1,700 people tested by its staff since the start of the pandemic, 14% — or more than 200 — were positive.

Only 11 states — including Michigan, Wisconsin and Colorado — have mandatory regulations in place to protect farmworkers, according to an analysis from the Environmental Working Group. Many others have issued recommendations, Partida says, but she’s concerned they lack penalties for those who do not follow them.

“There isn’t any enforcement; no accountability,” she says.

In some states, the risks to farmworkers are compounded by increasingly deadly natural disasters fueled by climate change, including wildfires in the West. Partida says many states don’t include farmworkers in their emergency response plans.

In order for farmworker protections to be guaranteed, she says the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture would need to step up to implement enforceable guidelines.

Until then, workers like Samuel Gomez and Josh will continue traveling to the next job and hoping for the best.

“That’s the risk we take as a migrant worker, to succeed in life,” Josh says. “Back in Texas, there’s not a lot of hope. Up here there is hope for a better future.”

This story was produced by Harvest Public Media and Side Effects Public Media, in collaboration with the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Dana and Christine are reporters with Illinois Newsroom. Follow them on Twitter: @DanaHCronin and @CTHerman

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The Dish

Lebanese-Mexican Restaurant Evette’s Opens Today

Above: Chicago chefs Rafael Esparza and Mitchell AbouJamra in their new restaurant, Evette’s, on Oct. 9, 2020 in Chicago, Ill. Diane Bou Khalil/Borderless Magazine

When you bite into a chicken taco árabes at Evette’s restaurant, you are tasting over a century of the blending of Lebanese and Mexican cultures, say chefs Rafael Esparza and Mitchell AbouJamra.

The taco consists of cumin-marinated chicken wrapped in pita bread and was inspired by a dish created by Lebanese and other Middle Eastern immigrants who fled to Mexico during the Ottoman Empire.

Evette “teta” AbouJamra in her kitchen in Michigan. Photo provided by Mitchell AbouJamra

For Esparza, who identifies as Chicano and whose family comes from Mexico, it’s that hidden history of immigrants adopting and blending their cuisine in a new country that makes Evette’s unique.

“I want customers to walk away with an understanding of the culture and identity struggle that children of immigrants had,” said Esparza, who is co-owner of Evette’s with AbouJamra. “Immigrant children try to incorporate their culture and assimilate even through food, Americanizing their food, like “taco pizzas,” so we don’t seem like weirdos.” 

While taco pizzas are not on the menu of Evette’s, which opens today at 350 W. Armitage Ave. in Chicago, Esparza and AbouJamra’s Mexican and Lebanese heritage is front and center in the menu. 

Evette’s pita nachos. Photo courtesy of Evette’s Chicago

Customers can choose from a variety of dishes that blend the chefs’ immigrant and Midwest roots including pita nachos, halloumi tacos, and baklava shakes. The nachos, made with fried pita bread, are covered in a special sauce from a family recipe passed down from Esparza’s grandmother.

The idea for Evette’s came from AbouJamra, who dreamed of starting a restaurant that would blend his own family’s cooking with other cultures. The restaurant is named after AbouJamra’s grandmother. 

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“Evette’s menu has been in my head forever,” said AbouJamra. “My teta Evette and aunt’s food has been perfected over generations, but I want to show what my experience was as an American-Lebanese.”

AbouJamra met Esparza while he was delivering produce to Esparza’s old cafe, Finom Coffee. That cafe, which has since closed, featured Hungarian dishes and Mexican-inspired drinks like Tres Leches De la Rosa. 

As restaurants shut down in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, AbouJamra decided that now was the time to take a chance on his dream. 

AbouJamra asked Esparza, who has long explored the melding of cultures in his cuisine, to join him in opening Evette’s. Having had worked at fine dining and sit-down restaurants for most of his career, Esparza was ready for a more fun, fast approach to serving food. 

Photos of two neighborhoods in Beirut, Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael, popular for their art and nightlife, as well as photos of the lucha libre wrestler, Fray Tormenta, cover the walls of the new restaurant, Evette’s, on Oct. 9, 2020, in Chicago, Ill. Diane Bou Khalil/Borderless Magazine

The partnership felt fitting.

“It was scary how natural Mexican cuisine fit with my family’s existing recipes,” said AbouJamra, “The flavors combine together perfectly.”

The blending of Lebanese and Latin American cuisine featured at Evette’s is not something new. From the 1860s to the early 1900s many Lebanese immigrated to Europe, Australia, and Latin America following the Mount Lebanon massacre of Christians during the rule of the Ottoman Empire. 

As Lebanese migrated across the world, they carried with them their unique culture and cuisine. “They brought shawarma to Mexico, specifically Puebla, Mexico,” said AbouJamra. “The way that shawarma meat was cooked on a vertical spit influenced the Mexican dish al pastor. Maybe without Lebanese culture’s influence on Mexico, al pastor wouldn’t exist.”

AbouJamra’s own grandma grew up in Cuba and spoke Spanish. He says that it was Evette’s passion for food that inspired him to have a career in food.

“At a young age I could help teta roll warak enab [stuffed grape leaves] and by the time I was four years old, I was helping my teta and jeddo [grandpa] pick parsley.”

Mitchell AbouJamra with his grandparents picking parsley in Michigan in the late 1970s. Photo provided by Mitchell AbouJamra

Food was also the family business. His grandfather’s brother bought a butcher shop in Michigan in 1972, and when his grandfather retired he moved his family to the United States to help with the shop. AbouJamra was the first one out of his family to be born in the United States and learned how to butcher at his family’s store as a young man.

For AbouJamra and Esparza, it is this rich family history that Evette’s is drawing from when the chefs serve Chicagoans. 

“The food is real stuff we have tried our whole lives, and it is fun for someone who doesn’t know it,” said Esparza. “We want to get people to understand that the first generation Mexican and Lebanese culture converging with the Midwest is me and Mitchell’s experience, this is what it looks like.” 

Evette’s is open for takeout at 350 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago. See website for hours.

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As Told To Postcards from the Border

An Immigration Attorney on Protecting the Rights of Asylum Seekers

Above: Las Americas employees in front of a mural by Cimi Alvarado outside their office.

Illustrations by Brian Herrera/Borderless Magazine

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Linda Rivas dreams of a future in which her job is no longer necessary. The executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center—a Texas law office for low-income immigrants—is an immigrant herself. When she was young, Las Americas assisted some members of her family, inspiring her to help communities in despair. She is now dedicated to providing legal assistance to immigrants who are held in detention centers in El Paso.

I was born in Pachuca, Hidalgo. My father was Mexican and my mother was an American citizen. I came to El Paso when I was four, and I acquired citizenship. My mother managed to grant me and my father our American citizenship all by herself. She didn’t use an attorney.  

In the ‘90s, some of my other family members received help from Las Americas to file immigrant petitions, which changed their lives. And that always really stuck with me. I remember they would say things like, “Le tenemos que llevar esto a la abogada.” (“We have to bring this to the attorney.”) And I think about that when our clients call; sometimes they’re stressed and distressed because there are so many policy changes right now. Managing what they are going through is something that is very near to my heart because my family went through it as well. To be able to come back and be a part of this is very much a dream come true. 

I was intrigued by how my family’s abogada held so much power in shaping their life. And I wanted to be someone who could help families like mine. I decided to go to law school, and I looked for some volunteering opportunities. In college, I hadn’t had much time to do extracurriculars: My mom had recently died, and I really took on caring for my younger brother who has ADHD. Once he got older, I finally had the opportunity to volunteer with a migrant shelter.

After volunteering there, it’s like I was bitten by a bug. I just knew that this was a space I wanted to be in. These people need somebody to accompany them throughout the really difficult, complicated journey of navigating the U.S. immigration system. And as a volunteer, you navigate between thinking: “Do I have a savior complex? Or am I truly empowering people?” 

That’s why I always say that it is an honor to serve the people we get to serve. We empower them by walking them through this very complicated legal process that’s designed for them to fail. If we’re able to break that, and get them any sort of legal status or get them out of a dangerous situation—for me, that’s all I set out to do. A very frustrating part of this job is seeing how a lot of people think that immigrants are undocumented because they want to be, and that if only they had all the rules, or had waited in line, or had just filed the proper papers, they’d be fine. That’s not the case. 

I lost my mom when I was 17, then my dad about four years ago. That’s been hard. But at the same time, this loss helps me relate to my clients. They, too, suffer a great loss by leaving their home country. 

In my nearly six years with Las Americas, one case that has really impacted me is the case of Alía and Maria. Maria and her children came to the United States in 2014 after her husband was killed in their hometown of Ciudad Juárez, and they applied for asylum. While they were trying to navigate the court system, Maria’s six-year-old daughter Alía was diagnosed with a very serious form of bone cancer. The family lost their case at a very early stage, and they came to Las Americas. We fought a lot, and as Alía’s cancer worsened, Maria faced deportation. We petitioned ICE for her stay of removal. They said yes. 

We fought hard, and they allowed her to stay for six months. Then Maria ended up remarrying her former husband, who is the father of her first two daughters. Because he is an American citizen, we were able to help her attain immigration status. If she hadn’t married him, I don’t know how much longer we could have protected her from deportation. To me, Maria shows the perseverance of a mother who is a fighter. She is a portrait of a refugee who is doing all she can in the worst of circumstances. 

Linda Rivas and her two children

I think about what our future could be like if we had true immigration reform. What would it mean if we had a moral ability for people to live safely in this country, to not have to live in the shadows, to not be scared of deportation? I think about how much they could grow and flourish. 

We’re really losing the opportunity to honor them and allow them to truly be a part of the success of communities around the country. Plenty of immigrants have contributed to our community. These are people who have raised doctors, nurses, and teachers. They own property and open businesses. I look at their lives in a packet that I present to the government to ask for their citizenship. To me, this packet represents so much strength and resilience.

I love working in Las Americas. It represents a lot of hope in the community; it offers some of the first defense against harmful policies that target refugees. But we want a future where Las Americas doesn’t have to exist. We want a future where migration is a human right, and it is recognized as such. We want a future where we don’t have to continuously be in this fight—where the fight has already been won. And that’s definitely a future that we continue to dream about. We’re nowhere near the end right now.

Read more Postcards from the Border here.

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As Told To Español Postcards from the Border

Una abogada de inmigración lucha por los derechos de los refugiados

Arriba: Empleados de Las Americas enfrente un mural por Cimi Alvarado afuera de la oficina.

Ilustraciones por Brian Herrera/Borderless Magazine

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Linda Rivas sueña con un futuro en el cual su trabajo ya no es necesario. La directora ejecutiva de Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center—una organización ubicada en Texas que ayuda a inmigrantes de bajos recursos—es también una inmigrante. Cuando era joven, Las Americas le brindó ayuda a algunos miembros de su familia, inspirándola a ayudar a las comunidades necesitadas. Hoy en día, ella se dedica a brindar asistencia legal a inmigrantes que están en centros de detención en El Paso.

Nací en Pachuca, Hidalgo. Mi padre era mexicano y mi madre era una ciudadana americana. Cuando tenía cuatro años nos fuimos a El Paso y conseguí mi ciudadanía. Mi mamá logró conseguirme a mí y a mi padre nuestra ciudadanía americana por sí sola. No contrató ningún abogado.

En los 90s, algunos miembros de mi familia recibieron ayuda de Las Americas y eso cambió sus vidas. Eso siempre se me quedó grabado. Me acuerdo de que decían cosas como “Le tenemos que llevar esto a la abogada”. Y me acuerdo de eso cuando nos hablan nuestros clientes; a veces están muy estresados y desesperados porque últimamente hay muchos cambios en la política. Gestionar lo que están pasando es algo que está muy cerca de mi corazón porque mi familia también pasó por todo eso. Así que, poder volver y ser parte de esto para mí es un sueño hecho realidad.

Me intrigaba mucho como la abogada de mi familia tenía tanto poder de cambiar sus vidas. Y yo quería ser alguien que ayudara a familias como la mía. Decidí ir a la escuela de leyes, y busqué oportunidades de voluntariado. En la universidad no tuve mucho tiempo de hacer actividades extracurriculares: Mi mamá había fallecido, y tuve que cuidar de mi hermano menor que tiene TDAH. Una vez que mi hermano creció, finalmente tuve la oportunidad de ser voluntaria en un centro para inmigrantes.

Después de ser voluntaria ahí es como si te picara un bicho. Simplemente supe que ese era el lugar en el que quería estar. Estas personas necesitan a alguien que las acompañe en este viaje tan difícil y complicado que es navegar en el sistema de inmigración de los Estados Unidos. Y como voluntaria, navegas pensando entre: “¿Tengo un complejo de salvador? ¿O realmente estoy empoderando a las personas?”

Por eso siempre digo que es un honor servir a las personas que nos toca servir. Los empoderamos guiándonos a través de este proceso legal tan complicado que está diseñado para que fracasen.

Si somos capaces de romper eso y conseguirles algún tipo de estatus legal o sacarlos de alguna situación peligrosa, para mí, eso es todo lo que me propuse hacer. Una parte muy frustrante de mi trabajo es ver cómo la gente piensa que los inmigrantes son indocumentados porque quieren serlo, y que, si tan solo hubieran seguido las reglas, o esperado en la línea, o llenado los documentos adecuados, estarían bien. Ese no es el caso. 

Perdí a mi mamá cuando tenía 17, y luego a mi papá hace cuatro años. Ha sido difícil. Pero al mismo tiempo, esta pérdida me ayuda a relacionarme con mis clientes. Ellos también han sufrido grandes pérdidas al abandonar sus países de origen.

En mis casi seis años trabajando con Las Americas, un caso que en verdad me ha impactado fue el caso de Alía y María. María y sus hijos vinieron a los Estados Unidos en el 2014 después de que su esposo fuera asesinado en Ciudad Juárez. Llegando solicitaron asilo. Mientras estaban tratando de navegar por el sistema judicial, Alía, la hija de seis años de María, fue diagnosticada de un caso muy grave de cáncer de hueso. La familia perdió el caso en una etapa muy temprana, y luego vinieron a Las Americas. Luchamos mucho, y mientras el cáncer de Alía seguía empeorando, María enfrentaba la deportación. Solicitamos a ICE que suspendiera la deportación. Dijeron que sí.

Luchamos tanto, y la dejaron quedarse por seis meses. Después, María terminó casándose con su exesposo, el cual es el padre de sus primeras dos hijas. Debido a que él es un ciudadano americano, pudimos ayudarla a obtener un estatus migratorio. Si no se hubiera casado con él, no sé cuánto más podríamos haberla protegido de la deportación. Para mí, María muestra la perseverancia de una madre que es una luchadora. Ella es el portarretrato de una refugiada que hace todo lo que puede en la peor de las circunstancias.

Linda Rivas con sus dos hijos.

Me pregunto cómo sería si en verdad contáramos con reformas de inmigración. ¿Qué significa si tuviéramos la habilidad moral para que las personas vivieran a salvo en este país, que no vivieran entre las sombras, que no tuvieran miedo a la deportación? Pienso en lo mucho que podrían crecer y florecer.

En verdad estamos perdiendo la oportunidad de honrarlos y permitirles ser parte del éxito de las comunidades alrededor del país. Muchos inmigrantes han contribuido a nuestra comunidad. Estas son personas que han criado doctores, enfermeras, y profesores. Ellos poseen y crean negocios. Veo sus vidas en un paquete cuando voy y se lo llevo al gobierno pidiendo que les concedan la ciudadanía. Para mí, ese paquete representa tanta fuerza y resiliencia.

Amo trabajar en Las Americas. Representa mucha esperanza en la comunidad; ofrece una de las primeras defensas en contra de políticas dañinas que afectan a refugiados. Sin embargo, queremos un futuro en el que Las Americas no tenga que existir. Queremos un futuro en donde la migración es un derecho humano y que sea reconocido como tal. Queremos un futuro en el que no tengamos que estar luchando constantemente—donde la batalla ya haya sido ganada. Y definitivamente ese es el futuro que soñamos continuamente. Actualmente, no estamos ni cerca del final.

Lee más Postales de la Frontera aquí.

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As Told To Español Postcards from the Border

Beneficiario de DACA lucha por sus sueños

Ilustraciones por Brian Herrera/Borderless Magazine 

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Eric creció como un niño indocumentado en los Estados Unidos. A pesar de sus esfuerzos por encajar, él sabía que no podía tener las mismas oportunidades que otras personas. Después de haber sido llevado a un centro de detención en Texas, decidió aplicar para DACA. Ahora, a sus 27 años, tiene una maestría y finalmente está construyendo un futuro para sí mismo.

Nací en Delicias, Chihuahua, a cuatro horas de El Paso, Texas.

Mudarnos a los Estados Unidos no estaba en los planes de mis papás. Un día fuimos a El Paso por el cumpleaños de mi primo. Mi mama tenia seis meses de embarazo, y tuvo que ir al hospital porque no se sentía bien. Dio a luz a mi hermana menor, quien ahora es nuestro ángel y nos llena de tanta felicidad. Al nacer, los doctores determinaron que nació con síndrome de Down, y resultó que necesitaba asistencia médica las 24 horas al día. Los doctores en México nos dijeron que no tenían los recursos suficientes para las necesidades de mi hermana y que deberíamos de llevarla a los Estados Unidos a tratarla. Así que, como Dios quiso que mi hermana naciera en los Estados Unidos, mis papás decidieron hacerlo. 

Tenía nueve años cuando mis papás me dijeron que nos íbamos a ir de México. Mi hermano y yo lloramos porque no queríamos despedirnos de nuestra vida en casa.

Compra aquí

En los Estados Unidos no teníamos nada, y no nos alcanzábamos nada. Prácticamente dormíamos en el suelo. Nuestro nuevo hogar consistía en unos colchones en el suelo y una mesa plegadiza. Batallamos mucho, en especial los primeros años. 

Mis papás no querían que llamara la atención. Poquito a poquito aprendí que necesitaba comportarme “apropiadamente”, a siempre estar callado y tranquilo. No hablaba inglés entonces siempre me metía en problemas en la escuela porque no entendía nada. Me molestaban mucho en la escuela, pero tuve que aprender a lidiar con eso porque no podía meterme en problemas. Tenía mucho miedo de que pasaría si llamaba la atención.  

Mi estatus migratorio se convirtió en un problema en la preparatoria. La universidad se acercaba, y quería estudiar en ciertas escuelas, pero había muchas cosas que no podía hacer para poder aplicar. No podía tener una identificación, y no calificaba para ningún tipo de beca. Solía creer que si lograba ir a la universidad no me iban a dar mi diploma porque era indocumentado. No conocía mis derechos.

En el 2013, cuando estaba en el colegio comunitario, el peligro de ser indocumentado se volvió algo muy claro para mí. Iba de camino a un restaurante en el centro de El Paso y me estacioné en un lugar que no tenía señalamiento. Salí del carro y vi a un hombre blanco. Primero pensé que era un policía, pero era de la migra.

Me empezó a interrogar, y cuando me di cuenta de que me estaba preguntando demasiadas cosas le dije que tenía el derecho a permanecer callado. El agente, aunque no tenía el derecho a hacerlo, me detuvo.

Estuve en un centro de detención por un mes y medio. Tuve la suerte de poder enviarles un mensaje de texto a mis papás diciéndoles que me había detenido la migra por estar caminando en la calle. Mi familia hizo todo lo que pudo para poder encontrarme.

Mientras estuve detenido, solo pensaba en que estaba perdiendo clases, mis actividades extracurriculares, mis amigos, todo. Trabajé tanto para ser una buena persona, tener las calificaciones perfectas, siempre ser invisible—y de un momento a otro, todo se desmoronó. 

Pude conseguir un abogado y tener un juicio. En el juicio, empezaron a ver mi información y vieron que tenía puras As, que había hecho muchas horas de servicio social, y que era un ser humano decente. Me dejaron ir, y lo primero que hice fue aplicar a DACA. 

Dos años después, tras haber sido un estudiante y empleado de tiempo completo, conseguí mi licenciatura. En el 2018, conseguí mi maestría en ingeniería de software con concentración de ciber-sistemas seguros.

Ahora trabajo en Austin como desarrollador de software. Pero tardé meses en conseguir mi primer trabajo. Cuando estaba a punto de graduarme, me ofrecieron una pasantía que tenía potencial de convertirse en un trabajo en una empresa muy grande. Me ofrecieron un salario impresionante, así que acepté inmediatamente y mi proceso de contratación comenzó. Pero después me llamaron diciéndome que iban a retirar la oferta porque vieron que no era un ciudadano americano. Estaba devastado. Simplemente me cerraron las puertas. Nunca supe nada más de ellos.

En verdad amo mi queridísimo México, pero toda mi vida está en los Estados Unidos, así que en mis planes futuros está quedarme aquí. Quiero casarme, tener hijos y comprar una casa. Estoy feliz de que por fin le pude ayudar a mi mamá a comprarse su casa propia 

La mejor parte de tener DACA es que ahora puedo probar que, a pesar de las ideas erróneas, los inmigrantes como yo solo estamos luchando por tener una mejor calidad de vida. Estamos luchando por nuestros sueños. Tener DACA me ha abierto tantas puertas que nunca imaginé posibles. Me ayudó a conseguir un título profesional, tener una identificación y hasta comprar propiedades. 

Lo más difícil de tener DACA es el miedo. Todo es incertidumbre. Podría perder todo en un abrir y cerrar de ojos. Es como vivir en un limbo constante. Otros compañeros y yo hemos luchado por conseguir mejores derechos. Hemos ido a las protestas en Washington, D.C. Y se que es una lucha interminable, pero necesitamos cambiar. Es insoportable vivir con miedo.

Lee más Postales de la Frontera aquí.

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As Told To Postcards from the Border

A DACA Recipient on Fighting for His Dreams

Illustrations by Brian Herrera/Borderless Magazine

Leer en español

Eric grew up as an undocumented child in the United States. Despite his efforts to fit in, he knew he couldn’t have the same opportunities as many other people. After being held in an immigration detention center in Texas, he decided to apply for DACA. Now, the 27-year-old has a master’s degree and is finally shaping a future for himself.

I was born in Delicias, Chihuahua, four hours from El Paso, Texas.

It wasn’t in my parents’ plans to move to the United States. One day we went to El Paso for my cousin’s birthday. My mom was six months pregnant, and she had to be taken to the hospital because she wasn’t feeling okay. She gave birth to my little sister, who is our angel; she has Down syndrome, and she fills our life with happiness. However, she needed medical assistance 24 hours a day. The doctors in Mexico said that their resources were insufficient for my sister’s needs and that she should go to the U.S. to get help. Since God wanted my sister to be born in the U.S., my parents decided to do it. 

I was nine when my parents told me we were leaving Mexico. My brother and I cried, because we didn’t want to say goodbye to our life.

Purchase here.

In the U.S., we didn’t have anything, and we couldn’t afford anything. We would basically sleep on the floor. Our new home consisted of some mattresses on the floor and a folding table. We struggled a lot, especially during the first years.

My parents didn’t want me to grab anyone’s attention. Little by little, I started learning that I needed to behave “properly,” to always be quiet and be calm. I didn’t speak English so I always got in trouble at school because I couldn’t understand anything. I was bullied a lot at school, but I had to learn how to deal with it because I couldn’t afford to get in more trouble. I was afraid of what could happen if I did.

My immigration status became a struggle in high school. College was approaching, and I wanted to study at certain schools, but there were many things I couldn’t do to apply. I couldn’t get an ID card, and I didn’t qualify for any type of scholarships. I used to think that I if was able to go to college, they wouldn’t give me my diploma because I was undocumented. I didn’t know my rights.

When I was attending community college in 2013, the dangers of being undocumented became even clearer to me. I drove to a restaurant in downtown El Paso and parked at a spot that wasn’t clearly marked. I got out of the car and saw a white man. I first thought he was a policeman. But he was from the Border Patrol.

He started questioning me, and when I realized he was asking too many questions, I said I had the right to be silent. He took me into custody, although he didn’t have the right to do so.

I was held at a detention center for one and a half months. Luckily, I was able to send just one text to my parents to let them know that I had been taken by Border Patrol while walking down the street. My family did everything they could to find me.

While I was detained, I could only think about how I was missing school, my extracurricular activities, my friends, everything. I worked so hard to be a good person, have the perfect grades, always be invisible—and all of the sudden, everything crumbled apart.

I was able to get a lawyer and have a trial. At the trial, they pulled out my information and realized I had straight As, that I had plenty of hours of social service, that I was a decent human being. They let me go, and the first thing I did was apply for DACA.

Two years later, after studying full-time while working two jobs, I got my bachelor’s degree. In 2018, I got my master’s in software engineering with a concentration in secure cyber-systems.

Now I work in Austin as a software developer. But I wasn’t able to land my first job for several months. When I was about to graduate, I had an internship offer from a big company that could later become a full-time job. They were offering a salary that was impressive, so I immediately accepted, and my hiring process began. But then they called me telling me that they had to take back the offer because I wasn’t an American citizen. I was devastated. They simply closed their door to me. I never heard anything else from them. 

I really love my dear Mexico, but my whole life has been here in the United States, so my future plans involve staying here. I want to get married, have kids, and buy a house. I am happy that I am finally able to help my mom buy a house of her own.  

The best part about having DACA is that I am able to prove that, despite misconceptions, immigrants like me are only fighting to have a better quality of life. We are fighting for our dreams. Having DACA has opened many doors that I never imagined were possible. It has let me get a professional degree, get an ID, and even purchase property.

The hardest part about having DACA is the fear. Nothing is certain. I could lose everything I have in the blink of an eye. It is like living in a constant limbo. Other recipients and I have fought to have better rights. I have been to protests in Washington, D.C. I know it is an endless fight, but we need change. It is unbearable to live with fear.  

Read more Postcards from the Border here.

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Coronavirus Español Essential Worker Feature Investigation

‘Solo queremos lo que nos merecemos’: Ex empleados de Strauss, una empacadora de carne, protestan por las condiciones de trabajo inseguras durante el COVID 

Arriba: Alrededor de 60 manifestantes se paran enfrente de la compañía de empaque de carne Strauss Brands, Inc. antes de marchar en Franklin, Wis. 7 de agosto de 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine 

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La planta empacadora de carne de Strauss Brands, Inc. se encuentra a 20 minutos en auto del centro de Milwaukee. El primer turno llega a la medianoche y el segundo comienza al mediodía durante el día. Los trabajadores generalmente conducen a la planta empacadora de carne que se encuentra en 5129 Franklin Drive en Franklin, Wisconsin en camionetas y SUVs de color azul y gris, llevando su almuerzo en bolsas de plástico. 

En abril, seis empleados probaron positivo por COVID-19 y ex trabajadores alegan que Strauss puso en riesgo a toda su fuerza laboral al ignorar las precauciones de seguridad exigidas por el estado para ayudar a frenar la propagación del virus. 

Veintinueve empleados llenaron anónimamente quejas ante la Administración de Seguridad y Salud Ocupacional sobre las laxas medidas de seguridad de Strauss el 22 de abril. Estos mismos empleados alegan que fueron despedidos por Strauss el 23 de julio como retaliación. 

La Directora Ejecutiva de Voces de la Frontera Christine Neumann-Ortiz y ex empleada de Strauss Brands, Inc. Maria Vasquez, se dirigen a una multitud de manifestantes durante la Marcha de la Justicia para los Trabajadores Esenciales en Franklin, Wis. 7 de agosto de 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

Strauss afirma que los 29 empleados fueron despedidos porque su información de seguridad social no coincidía con otra documentación fiscal que tenían registrada para ellos, para el Servicio de Impuestos Internos.  

Strauss notificó a uno de sus trabajadores el 23 de julio que si no podían dar documentación de que estaban autorizados a trabajar legalmente o recibir documentos de autorización de trabajo en los próximos 30 días la compañía los despediría, según The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sin embargo, algunos de estos empleados habían estado trabajando en Strauss durante al menos una década sin problema antes de ser despedidos en julio. 

“OSHA estaba entrevistando a trabajadores. Es por eso que vimos esto como una retaliación por exigir protecciones en el trabajo,” dijo Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Directora Ejecutiva de Voces de la Frontera. OSHA comenzó una investigación sobre violaciones de salud y seguridad el 2 de junio, según los registros de OSHA. 

Strauss se negó a hacer comentarios cuando Borderless Magazine preguntó sobre el momento de los despidos masivos y las acusaciones de trabajadores de que los empleados fueron despedidos como venganza por las quejas que presentaron. 

Esta no es la primera vez que Strauss ha sido acusado de ser un lugar inseguro para trabajar.

Compra aqui.

Strauss planeo mudarse al parque empresarial Century de Milwaukee, pero retiró la propuesta en octubre de 2019 después de que los vecinos y un miembro del Consejo Común de Milwaukee se opusieron al proyecto citando trabajos peligrosos que podrían provocar estrés postraumático entre sus preocupaciones, según The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Después de retirar la propuesta inicial del proyecto, la compañía revisó y volvió a presentar una nueva propuesta en abril de este año, con planes de iniciar construcción este otoño. 

En julio de 2017, OSHA multó a Strauss por $5,000 por una violación de salud y seguridad. Strauss se negó a comentar sobre esta violación. 

Danny Alvarado, uno de los 29 trabajadores que llenó quejas anónimas, se encuentra fuera de Strauss Brands, Inc. en Franklin, Wis. 7 de agosto de 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

Danny Alvardo, 36, había trabajado en Strauss por 17 años cuando la pandemia de coronavirus apareció. Él es uno de los 29 trabajadores que llenó las denuncias anónimas con la ayuda de Voces de la Frontera, un grupo de defensa comunitario que protege los derechos de los trabajadores, sobre la falta de medidas de seguridad para contener la propagación del COVID-19. 

Alvarado y sus compañeros de trabajo alegan que Strauss no siguió ninguna de las protecciones de los trabajadores recomendadas por el CDC y OSHA: como las llegadas y salidas de los trabajadores, la designación de los tiempos de descanso y sugiriendo que los trabajadores evitarán compartir coches para ir al trabajo y después de salir. 

Maria Vasquez, 41, es otra trabajadora que fue despedida por Strauss después de presentar quejas. Ella trabajó allí durante casi 13 años y fue la primera persona en probar positiva por el virus COVID-19 en la compañía en abril.  

Vasquez, una madre soltera de cuatro hijos, informó a la compañía que iba a hacerse la prueba el 21 de julio. La compañía, sin embargo, no le informó a sus compañeros de trabajo cuál que, los puso en riesgo de estar expuestos al virus. 

Vasquez explicó que su recuperación desde que contrajo el virus ha sido diferente y desafiante. Se ha recuperado lentamente en los últimos cuatro meses, pero todavía siente dolor del cuerpo y tiene dificultad para respirar. 

Maria Vasquez y su familia afuera de su casa en Milwaukee, Wis. 31 de agosto de 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

“Mi mayor temor eran mis hijos. ‘¿Qué iban hacer si yo moría?’ Estarían sin zapatos, sin comida y posiblemente peor,” ella dijo.

La compañía no le dio licencia para enfermedad pagada y ella continuó trabajando a pesar de que estaba infectada. La recuperación del virus se complica aún más por las lesiones de quemaduras, que sufrió en 2014 mientras empacaba carne de hamburguesa en una línea de montaje. 

Vasquez todavía tiene facturas acumuladas por las quemaduras anteriores y está luchando en contra de Strauss en un caso judicial, exigiendo que paguen sus facturas médicas.   

En Wisconsin, solo 8.8 por ciento de los casos confirmados de COVID-19 entre los trabajadores de cinco plantas de producción de carne fueron reportados en abril, según datos del CDC. Sin embargo, no está claro cuántos trabajadores en las compañías de procesamiento de carne y comida pueden haber sido infectados por el virus desde la última vez que se reportaron los datos en abril. 

En Milwaukee, los latinos hacen solo el 15.4 por ciento de la población pero tienen el mayor número de casos confirmados, con un estimado del 30 por ciento, según los datos dados por el tablero del COVID-19 en la página del Condado de Milwaukee, que se actualiza diariamente. 

Las órdenes del estado de Wisconsin han seguido de cerca la orden ejecutiva del presidente Donald Trump firmada en abril, que ordenó que las instalaciones de carne y aves de corral continuarán operando a pesar de las preocupaciones sobre el virus. 

Después de una protesta pública por los despidos, la unión negocio para que Strauss Brands ofreciera a los empleados despedidos un paquete de indemnización valorado en más de $264,000 el 6 de agosto.  

“Cuando [los empleados] se defienden, no es solo lo correcto, sino que es como si tu destino estuviera ligado unos a otros”, dijo Neumann-Ortiz. “Es por eso que animamos a la gente a hablar y poner una cara al movimiento. Cuando lo hacen, en realidad vemos el cambio.” 

Voces ha recibido 20 quejas de trabajadores de otras compañías de la planta en Briggs & Stratton y Echo Lakes Foods desde mediados de abril. Esas quejas incluyen preocupaciones físicas y de salud similares a las que se quejaron los empleados de Strauss. 

En Echo Lakes en Burlington, casi-abuelo, Juan Manuel Reyes Valdez había estado tratando activamente de obligar a la compañía a implementar estas guías cuando falleció.  

En Briggs & Stratton, Mike Jackson, de 45 años y padre de ocho hijos, había estado luchando activamente y dirigió una marcha con compañeros de trabajo antes de morir de COVID-19.

En ambos casos, la falta de días de enfermedad pagados los obligó a venir a trabajar mientras estaban enfermos. 

Racine Concejal Jennifer Levie durante la Marcha de la Justicia para Trabajadores Esenciales fuera de Strauss Brands, Inc. en Franklin, Wis. 7 de agosto de 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

Una protesta el 7 de agosto frente a la sede de Strauss también incluyó el apoyo de funcionarios electos y miembros de la junta escolar como los supervisores del condado de Milwaukee Steve Shea, Ryan Clancy, y Racine Concejal Jennifer Levie.

“Estoy aquí en solidaridad con estos trabajadores que están siendo tratados increíblemente injustamente. Nos llamó a todos a estar unidos en esta lucha para asegurar que sean justamente compensados,” dijo Levie, en la protesta. 

This story is a part of the Solving for Chicago collaborative effort by newsrooms to cover the workers deemed “essential” during COVID-19 and how the pandemic is reshaping work and employment.

It is a project of the Local Media Foundation with support from the Google News Initiative and the Solutions Journalism Network. The 19 partners span print, digital and broadcasting and include WBEZ, WTTW, the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Defender, La Raza, Shaw Media, Block Club Chicago, Borderless Magazine, the South Side Weekly, Injustice Watch, Austin Weekly News, Wednesday Journal, Forest Park Review, Riverside Brookfield Landmark, Windy City Times, the Hyde Park Herald, Inside Publications, Loop North News and Chicago Music Guide.

Nuestro trabajo es posible gracias a donaciones de personas cómo tú. Apoya a el periodismo de alta calidad realizando una donación deducible de impuestos hoy.                                                                                              Donar

Coronavirus Essential Worker Feature Investigation

‘We Just Want What We Deserve’: Former Strauss Meatpacking Employees Protest Unsafe Working Conditions During COVID 

Above: About 60 demonstrators stand in front of the Strauss Brands, Inc. meatpacking facility before marching in Franklin, Wis. Aug. 7, 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

Leer en español

Strauss Brands, Inc.’s meatpacking facility is located a 20 minute drive from downtown Milwaukee. The first shift comes in at midnight and the second begins at noon during the day. Workers typically drive to the meatpacking plant at 5129 Franklin Drive in Franklin, Wisconsin in blue and grey colored trucks and SUVs, carrying their lunch in plastic bags.  

In April six employees tested positive for COVID-19 and former workers allege Strauss put its entire workforce at risk by ignoring state mandated safety precautions to help slow the spread of the virus.

Twenty-nine employees anonymously filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about Strauss’ lax safety measures on April 22. These same employees allege they were then fired by Strauss on July 23 as retaliation. 

Strauss claims the 29 employees were fired because their social security information did not match other tax documentation they had on file for them for the Internal Revenue Service. 

Strauss notified one of its workers on July 23 that if they could not provide documentation that they were authorized to work legally or receive work authorization documents in the next 30 days the company would fire them, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Yet some of these employees had been working at Strauss for at least a decade without issue before they were fired in July.

Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera Christine Neumann-Ortiz and former Strauss Brands, Inc. meatpacking employee Maria Vasquez address a crowd of protestors during the Justice March for Essential Workers in Franklin, Wis. Aug. 7, 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

“OSHA was interviewing workers. That’s why we saw this as retaliation for demanding protections on the job, ” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Voces de la Frontera’s executive director. OSHA began an investigation into health and safety violations on June 2, 2020, according to OSHA records.

Strauss declined to comment when Borderless Magazine asked about the timing of the mass firings and the worker allegations that employees were terminated as retribution for the complaints they filed. 

This isn’t the first time Strauss has been accused of being an unsafe place to work. 

Purchase here.

Strauss planned to move to Milwaukee’s Century Business park but withdrew the proposal in October 2019 after neighbors and a Milwaukee Common Council member opposed the project citing dangerous jobs that could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder among their concerns, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

After withdrawing the initial project proposal, the company revised and resubmitted a new proposal in April of this year, with plans of beginning construction this fall. 

In July 2017, OSHA fined Strauss for $5,000 for a health and safety violation. Strauss declined to comment on this violation. 

Danny Alvardo, one of the 29 workers who filed anonymous complaints, stands outside of Strauss Brands, Inc. in Franklin, Wis. Aug. 7, 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

Danny Alvarado, 36, had worked at Strauss for 17 years when the coronavirus pandemic struck. He’s one of the 29 workers who filed the anonymous complaints with the help of Voces de la Frontera, a community based advocacy group safeguarding worker’s rights, about the lack of safety measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Alvarado and his coworkers allege Strauss did not follow  any of the worker protections recommended by the CDC or OSHA: like staggering workers’ arrivals and departures, designating break times and encouraging workers to avoid carpooling to and from work.

Maria Vasquez, 41, is another worker fired by Strauss after filing complaints. She’d worked there for nearly 13 years and was the first person to test positive for the COVID-19 virus at the facility in April. 

Vasquez, a single-mother of four, informed the company that she went to get tested on July 21. The company, however, did not inform her coworkers which put them at risk of being exposed to the virus. 

Vasquez explained her recovery since contracting the virus has been different and challenging. She has slowly recovered over the past four months but still experiences body pain and has difficulty breathing. 

Maria Vasquez and her family outside of their home in Milwaukee, Wis. Aug. 31, 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

“My biggest fear was my kids. ‘What were they going to do if I died?’ They would be without shoes, without food and possibly worse,” she said. 

The company did not give her paid sick leave and she continued working though she was infected. Recovering from the virus is further complicated by burn injuries she suffered in 2014 while packing hamburger meat on an assembly line.

Vasquez still has bills piled up from the previous burn injuries and is fighting an ongoing court case against Strauss demanding that they pay her medical bills. 

In Wisconsin, only 8.8 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases among workers in five meatpacking plants were reported in April, according to CDC data. However, it is unclear how many workers at meat and food processing facilities may have been infected by the virus since data was last reported in April. 

In Milwaukee, Latinos make-up only 15.4 percent of the population but make-up the largest number of confirmed cases, with an estimated 30 percent, according to data provided by the Milwaukee County COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated daily. 

Wisconsin state orders have closely followed President Donald Trump’s executive order signed in April which ordered meat and poultry facilities to continue operating despite concerns about the virus. 

After a public outcry over the firings their union negotiated for Strauss Brands to offer the fired employees a severance package worth over $264,000 on Aug. 6.  

“When [employees are] fighting back, it’s not just the correct thing to do, but it’s like your fate is tied to one another,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “That’s why we encourage people to speak out, and to put a face to the movement. When they do, we actually see change.”  

Voces has received 20 complaints from workers at other plant facilities in Briggs & Stratton and Echo Lakes Foods since mid-April. Those complaints include similar health and physical concerns to what the employees at Strauss complained about. 

At Echo Lakes in Burlington, grandfather-to-be, Juan Manuel Reyes Valdez had been actively trying to force the company to implement these guidelines when he passed away. 

At Briggs & Stratton, Mike Jackson, 45 and a father of eight, had been actively fighting and staged a walkout with co-workers before dying of COVID-19. 

In both cases, the lack of paid sick days forced them to come to work while sick.  

Racine Alderwoman Jennifer Levie during the Justice March for Essential Workers outside of Strauss Brands, Inc. in Franklin, Wis. Aug. 7, 2020. Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

An Aug. 7 protest in front of the Strauss headquarters also included support from elected officials and school board members like Milwaukee County Supervisors Steve Shea, Ryan Clancy, and Racine Alderwoman Jennifer Levie.

“I stand here in solidarity with these workers who are being treated incredibly unjustly. I call us to all stand together in this struggle to ensure that they are justly compensated,”Levie said, at the protest

This story is a part of the Solving for Chicago collaborative effort by newsrooms to cover the workers deemed “essential” during COVID-19 and how the pandemic is reshaping work and employment.

It is a project of the Local Media Foundation with support from the Google News Initiative and the Solutions Journalism Network. The 19 partners span print, digital and broadcasting and include WBEZ, WTTW, the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Defender, La Raza, Shaw Media, Block Club Chicago, Borderless Magazine, the South Side Weekly, Injustice Watch, Austin Weekly News, Wednesday Journal, Forest Park Review, Riverside Brookfield Landmark, Windy City Times, the Hyde Park Herald, Inside Publications, Loop North News and Chicago Music Guide.

Our work is made possible thanks to donations from people like you. Support high-quality reporting by making a tax-deductible donation today.                                                                                                                        Donate

As Told To Español Postcards from the Border

Diciendo Adiós al Sueño Americano

Ilustraciones por Brian Herrera/Borderless Magazine 

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Tomás Díaz vino a los Estados Unidos con grandes sueños. Él quería ganar dinero para poder mandárselo a su esposa y familia en casa. Pero después de dos años trabajando en un zoológico en New York, él estaba listo para volver a su hogar en Durango, México.

Crucé la frontera con mi tío hace unos 13 años. Nos enteramos de que había un coyote en Puerto Palomas, así que nos fuimos de Ciudad Juárez para encontrarnos con él. Caminamos hacia el oeste por 24 horas para poder encontrarlo.

Fue como a las 6 p.m. que llegamos a Palomas. El coyote nos entrevistó, nos cobró $2,000 dólares, y tratamos de cruzar esa misma noche.

 La primera vez no tuvimos éxito.

Planeábamos volver a intentarlo al día siguiente, así que compramos agua y atún para poder sobrevivir nuestro viaje. Tratamos de cruzar varias veces, pero la migra nos perseguía.

Todavía ni cruzábamos la frontera y ya estaban tras de nosotros.

Cuando nuestro grupo por fin empezó su camino, el coyote nos señaló un edificio muy lejos al que teníamos que llegar.

Se veía muy cerca, pero por más que caminábamos y caminábamos no nos acercábamos nada.

 Era como si el destino se fuera alejando por más que camináramos hacia él.

Cuando llegó la noche, la migra estaba pisándonos los talones. Nos escondimos en una cueva y podíamos sentir cómo estaban buscándonos afuera. Más tarde y en la madrugada, atraparon a algunas personas.

Había helicópteros volando encima de nosotros y tenían unas luces enormes. Si la luz te alcanzaba, no había escapatoria.

Las personas que estaban más cerca de mí tuvieron suerte y se escondieron en unos arbustos.

Yo quería ser invisible.

Cuando logramos llegar a una autopista corrimos muy rápido para poder cruzarla.

Había cuatro mujeres con nosotros y una de ellas tenía un niño de 8 años. Después de un rato, el niño dijo que ya no podía caminar porque se le llenaron los pies de ampollas. El niño estaba llorando y le decía a su mamá que lo dejara ahí y que se fuera sin él.

No podíamos dejar que eso pasara. Éramos un equipo.

O todos cruzábamos o ninguno lo hacía. Nos turnamos para cargar al niño. Caminamos por 24 horas.

En cuanto cruzamos la frontera nos dirigimos a Albuquerque, Nuevo México. Cuando íbamos en camino nos paramos en varios lugares para que la gente que venía con nosotros se bajara. Todos nos dirigíamos a diferentes destinos.

Una vez que llegamos a Nueva York, nuestro nuevo jefe le pagó al coyote el resto del dinero. El dueño del zoológico ya había contratado a mi tío hace algunos años. Le gusta trabajar con gente de mi pueblo porque somos muy buenos empleados.

Me sentí como si fuéramos ganado. El gringo pagó por nosotros, éramos su “mercancía.” Nunca me había sentido así. Nuestro nuevo jefe nos dio dinero para poder comprar ropa y despensa. Al día siguiente empezamos a trabajar para él. 

Él era dueño de un zoológico con animales de granja. Sus tres empleados eran indocumentados — mi tío, otro chico mexicano, y yo. Nosotros nos encargamos de todo, cuidábamos toda la granja y dábamos tours a escuelas. Un día normal empezaba a las 5 a.m. y se terminaba a las 10 p.m. 

Nos dormíamos en un camión con aire acondicionado y calefacción ahí mismo en la granja. Estaba muy a gusto. 

Pero después de trabajar para él por unos dos años y medio decidí que era tiempo de volver a México. Extrañaba a mi familia y quería seguir construyendo una vida en Durango. Estoy casado y tenía que cuidar de ellos. 

Cuando iba de regreso me tuve que esconder para que no me parara la migra y me deportaran oficialmente. Con el dinero que ahorré mientras trabajaba en Nueva York pude comprar unos taxis en Durango y empezar mi propio negocio. 

La verdad no creo que vuelva a cruzar la frontera.

Primero piensas que el sueño Americano es algo increíble, pero una vez que lo ves de cerca te das cuenta de que en verdad no lo es. Todo es tan caro que el dinero que ganas lo terminas gastando rápidamente. 

Mucha gente joven que logra cruzar se pierden en las drogas. En los Estados Unidos hay de todo tipo de drogas, está peor que en México. 

Algo positivo es que mi jefe Americano nos ayudó a comenzar nuestro proceso para poder obtener nuestra residencia. Sin embargo, ya ha pasado más de una década y todavía no he logrado obtenerla. 

Ahora que vuelvo a recordar mis experiencias me doy cuenta de que, si sufrí mucho en el desierto, pero me fue de maravilla en los Estados Unidos. Era mi primera vez cruzando y logré llegar, ahorrar dinero, y empezar una mejor vida para mi familia en México.

Lee más Postales de la Frontera aquí.

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As Told To Postcards from the Border

Walking Away from the American Dream

Illustrations by Brian Herrera/Borderless Magazine

Leer en español

Tomás Díaz came to the United States with big dreams. He wanted to earn money so he could support his wife and family back at home. But after two years working at a zoo in New York he was ready to return home to Durango, Mexico.

I crossed the border with my uncle about 13 years ago. We heard there was a coyote in Puerto Palomas so we left Ciudad Juárez to meet him. We walked west for 24 hours in the desert to find him.

It was around 6 p.m. when we arrived in Palomas. The coyote interviewed us, charged us $2,000, and tried to cross us that night. 

We weren’t successful that first time. 

We planned to try again the next day so we bought water and tuna to survive our journey. We tried to cross several times but each time US Border Patrol patrols would chase us. 

We hadn’t even crossed the border but they were already after us.

When our group began our journey the coyote pointed out a building afar where we had to go.

It looked so close. But as we walked and walked it felt like we were nowhere near the point. 

It was almost as if the point got further away as we walked towards it.

When night came, the Border Patrol was upon us. We hid in a cave and could feel them searching for us outside. Later that night and again at dawn some people were caught.

Helicopters flew overhead with a huge spotlight. There was no way the people it spotted could escape. 

The people closest to me were lucky by hiding in some bushes. 

I wanted to disappear.

When we got to the highway we ran as fast as we could to get across. 

Four women were with us and one of them had an 8-year-old kid. After a while the kid couldn’t walk anymore because his feet were full of blisters. I saw the kid start crying and tell his mother to leave him there and continue on without him.

We couldn’t let that happen. We were a team. 

Either we all cross or none of us do. We took turns and carried the kid. We walked for 24 hours.

Once we crossed the border we headed to  Albuquerque, New Mexico. On the way the coyote stopped at several places so people could get out. We were all going to different places. 

Once we arrived in New York our new boss at the zoo paid the Coyote for everything. The owner hired my uncle a few years ago. He likes recruiting from my hometown because we are hardworking people.

I felt like cattle. The gringo paid for us, his “merchandise.” I have never felt that way before. Our then boss gave us some money so we could buy some clothes and groceries.The next day we started working for him. 

He owned a zoo with farm animals. His three employees were undocumented — my uncle, another Mexican guy, and me. We would do everything at that zoo, take care of the entire farm and the school groups that toured it. A normal day would start at 5 a.m. and it would end at 10 p.m. 

We would also sleep in a trailer with an AC and a heater at the farm.  It was nice. 

But after working for him for around two and a half years I decided it was time to go back to Mexico. I missed my family and I wanted to continue building a life in Mexico. I’m married and had to take care of my family. 

When I went back I had to be hidden so I wouldn’t be stopped by the Border Patrol and officially deported. With the money I saved while working in New York I was able to buy some taxis in Durango and start my business. 

I don’t think I’ll ever cross the border again. 

At first you think the American dream is something impressive. But once you see it up close it really isn’t. All the money you earn is spent because everything is so expensive there. 

A lot of young people who cross get lost in drugs because in the United States you can find any type of drug. It is worse than in Mexico. 

One silver lining is that my American boss helped us start our residency process. However it’s been over a decade and I still haven’t got my green card. 

Looking back, even though I did suffer a lot crossing the desert I did pretty well in the United States. It was my first time crossing and I managed to get there, save up money, and start a better life back in Mexico for my family. 

Read more Postcards from the Border here.

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