Flight, Hardship, and Hope

by Susan Massey

Last week I was visiting the Posada del Migrante in Mexicali. It is a shelter filled with families and many small children who are fleeing danger from somewhere south of here and are applying for asylum in the United States.

I interviewed a beautiful young woman in her early twenties who was staying at the shelter. I recorded her story and transcribed and translated it. I present her story here as she told it to me, only editing for length and clarity. For her safety, I am not giving her name or the place she comes from.

We are from ◇◇◇◇◇,  from a little town in a rural area. Really, it was very peaceful. I am from a very humble family, very hard-working. My grandparents on my mother's side were the first people to arrive there. They worked as peasants in order to support their family. My family, on my father’s side, acquired some land that had no owner, nothing, and that's where our problem comes from.

Combo

My grandmother, my father's mother, passed away when he was ten years old. From there also comes another problem – all the stories are coming together you see! My dad had to take care of many siblings, there are nine. A very large family, but a very united family. My dad was always working everywhere because my grandfather was a farmer and  had no education at all.  My dad had to take care of everything. In the middle of all that, he met my mother and he had us. There are four of us. We were happy for ten years, we were fine. He sent us to school. I was still studying when all this happened. I was working as a secretary in a school, but I was also studying to be a teacher. I was just short a few semesters from finishing.

There came a time when the land that my grandfather acquired just began to have value. It is a beach, it is a virgin beach. People started showing interest. And what my grandfather did was distribute land to his relatives and others so people wouldn’t cause him problems. He gave land to people so that they could acquire something. They had something to help their family. He delivered the land with papers and everything. It was fine. Later our families began to have problems.

Drug traffickers started coming around. They wanted to acquire that land, but in a bad way. They tried to grab it, and if someone opposed them, they started with the fines, they call it a “quota”. The first person who agreed to pay the fine was my mother's brother. He paid. There came a time when he couldn't pay it anymore, and they killed him. It was her brother with whom she was always very close.

In the little towns there is someone who is in charge of the wake, of going to pick up the body. My dad took responsibility for all of that. He was the one who was in front of all the movements, and for that simple reason of helping my mother there also comes the problem. They also began to ask for money from him. They threatened him with messages and calls and so on, and he said “Well I only have land. I don't have a business. I do not have money.”

We did not have the amount that they were asking for, and that is the truth. It was a warning that if not, then they were going to harm the family or him.

The threats returned. We did as best we could, we put together that amount, and we gave it, but later the demands were for more and more and more money, and they were more frequent, and we reached the point that we couldn't manage what they were asking for. When we said no, we couldn’t. My mom, my brother, a six-year-old boy, my sister-in-law and I were at home when they came shooting up the house. (She starts sobbing)

That was July 8 last year, 2021. It was like eight at night. As I say again – the house is very humble. We were all in the house. My dad was in the living room, which was in the front of the house, and we were all in the bedroom, thank God. By the grace of God we were all in the bedroom! We were not together with my dad when a van arrived. Supposedly it was the police. They came telling my dad to get out of the house, that they were carrying an arrest warrant when he had done absolutely nothing. He looked out and said "It's not the police." And he was able to get us out. In other words, his reaction was first to protect us. We went out through the window in the back. And since there are houses next to each other, there was a lady who was like my godmother and she sheltered us. As soon as he returned, they began to shoot.

I didn't tell you that there is an armed group there that is supposedly called “the community force”, which is said to be a group of policemen who are from the community and are trying to support the community. But that group is really the same, the same drug traffickers are running it. They pass themselves off as police by wearing a uniform. They are the ones who make the people of that little town disappear. Several people had already disappeared for the same reason. Some criminals forced themselves into that group and if the others did not go along with them, they took action against their families.

My father, I tell you again, yes, he got us all out of the house, and when my father started to come out they shot up the house with AR-15s.

He received six bullet wounds. One on his knee, one on his hand, one on this side, one on this, (indicating the arms) left arm and right arm. He received hits on both arms.

The house was made of mud and stones so the bullets passed through the house, and he received six bullet wounds. They said in the town that the house received about three hundred gunshots. Three hundred holes. They left my dad to die. That’s the truth. He's alive right now thank God, by God's blessing, but he was about to die.

They thought he was already dead, that he would remain on the ground. They left. They did what they came to do and left. We called one of my dad’s brothers who was nearby. With his help we picked up my dad, it was a moment, the truth is that . . .  (she breaks down again)

The police came, but they did nothing. They thought he was dead. What they were going to do was pick up the body. Yes, we picked him up and went to a clinic. A clinic that never opened their doors for us. I ran around screaming for them to open the doors. It was raining and since it is a small rural town, it also gets very messy because of the rain. They did not let us in. We had to go to a health center, a community center where they received him. The only thing they did there was to cover up his wounds so that they wouldn't bleed. But from there they sent us to a hospital in another city that is about two hours away.

Blessed be God, a doctor offered to come with us to watch over him. I have photos of everything he suffered. He stopped breathing twice, he was dying, his heart stopped when he was on a stretcher. They revived him twice.

Since that day everything changed.

My brother stayed in the town to be able to shelter my mother and my sister-in-law. I traveled to another town with my father to take care of him. We kept him in a hospital for almost two months. The doctors didn't really give us hope. We were still in the hospital when messages were coming to him (we had his phone). A message came to him and to us that if he did not pay the money, that it had only been a warning. That if he didn't pay, our whole family would be attacked next.

My brother was still in town and they went after him. Thank God he got out on time. What we did was try to get him to the United States going round about ways through back roads. The border was closed because of the pandemic. In that year we had to seek refuge everywhere.

We were fleeing from one place to another any way we could. But what worried us most was my brother. He was the target because he was my father's son. Wherever we were, wherever we went they followed us. We were in the state of Mexico, we were in Colima, we were in Michoacán, we went to many different states and they followed us. They said we were making fun of them. It was a mockery for them that we were not paying.

Thank God we found this place [Posada del Migrante]. First we were in Tijuana. We were not received at the shelter there because it was full. At first because there was a pandemic. Because the borders were not open, everything was closed. And then I think because there were a lot of people with similar cases and even worse.

My sister-in-law and I arrived here seeking refuge first. In the year that we were traveling around, my father had not yet recovered at all. We were traveling – he was in a wheelchair – he wasn't walking very well. We were carrying him, looking for shelter, and we saw that it was very difficult for him and even more difficult for us because we were walking. We had to sleep on the street, and it was more difficult for him because of the injuries he had. So we agreed that it would be better for him to stay somewhere else with my mom while we sought refuge.

Thank God they received us here, and I am very grateful to be here. Because they are giving us a chance to live – more for my nephew who is six years old. How is this situation his fault? When they opened the doors for us, we asked that my parents be accepted although we saw that the shelter was already very full. We talked with the director and she told us that there was no problem.

My parents, thank God, have already crossed to the United States, with the help of the shelter. They crossed as refugees. They are with their niece. She is a resident over there. They were the first to be permitted to cross, due to the seriousness of my father’s gunshot wounds. There was no doubt about his story.

We have already submitted papers asking for asylum, my sister-in-law, nephew and me. We are just waiting for the day to arrive. I hope it's soon. So we can be on that side. Finally to be safe.

A week after this interview was recorded the young woman was given permission to cross legally into the U. S. along with her nephew and sister-in-law.

For the last four years Susan Massey has been collaborating with other friends taking food, clothing and cash to migrant shelters in Mexicali run by COBINA, a human rights organization (https://gofund.me/9b9b9c38). These shelters receive no government funds from either side of the border and depend on donations from sympathetic individuals and church groups. One faith group in the U.S. has provided lawyers to guide applicants through the process of asking for asylum in the United States. With the several recent changes for immigrants seeking asylum, it is expected that the shelters and the services that COBINA offers will be even more in demand.