In light of what’s been happening on the border, I wanted to share an article from the Southwest Kansas Catholic written by the editor, Dave Myers. It may be hard for some of us to imagine this happening but this is why so many good people will walk thousands of miles for peace and safety.
Honduran family journeys to Kansas seeking
Freedom from Fear
By David Myer
Southwest Kansas Register
Editor’s Note: Ana’s name has been changed for this story.
For 10 minutes, Ana felt the cold steel of a gun held to her head.
For 10 minutes, the mother of three children knew she would die at any moment, and when that moment never came, it was nothing short of a milagro (miracle).
When the Register spoke with the diminutive woman from Honduras, she was only six days in the United States and living with family members. The relief she felt was palpable. She and her two sons were safe, and she soon would be reunited with her husband and seven-year-old daughter, from whom they separated before crossing the border. She was at peace. Finally. And she no longer had to face the inevitability of her two sons being forcefully indoctrinated into a gang or cartel.
Having a gun pressed to her head was not the first time Ana felt heart-crushing fear, and it wouldn’t be the last. But it was the moment when the family finally decided it was time to leave.
With the help of Sister Janice Thome, OP, who acted as interpreter, Ana described the day she encountered the gunman. She was at work in a restaurant when a gang of thugs flew through the front doors.
“They wanted to kill a [wealthy man], but he was surrounded by body guards,” Ana explained. “They killed a lot of people. They wanted money, but it was 9 a.m. when we opened, and there was no money yet.”
Because Ana was a witness to the shootings, she surely would be killed, too.
“I ran to the back, but a man caught me and put a gun to my head. For 10 minutes he didn’t say anything. I don’t know why he didn’t kill me. When this kind of thing happens in my country, they shoot you for sure. It was a miracle.”
Why didn’t she go to the police?
“The police and the gangs are linked. I would be dead.”
If it was just about her safety – going to work and getting home without being victimized – they might have stayed. But then there were the children. Ana explained that when children enter, say, the ninth or tenth grades, they are approached by cartel members wanting to “train them to be drug mules or to kidnap people for money. If they don’t want to be a part of it, they are told that their whole family will be killed.
“I didn’t want my sons to grow up and be bad men. I wanted to come here and be safe, where they could grow up to be good men.”
She found the help of a kind “coyote.” (Coyotes are those who help others cross the border, and are notoriously less interested in their “customers’” welfare than they are in money. To find a kind coyote who charged the “very cheap” price of $9,500 for the entire family, was another “milagro.”) Ana, her husband, three children and two other family members boarded a bus and began the long trek across Guatemala, along the vast expanse of Mexico, and finally to the border of Texas.
Like so many immigrants flooding into the southern states, once across the border, Ana and her family allowed themselves to be taken by immigration officials, in hopes that they would be granted asylum. She and her husband – she with their two sons and he with their daughter – separated, hoping that each, having children but being without a spouse, would be granted the asylum they desperately sought.
It was a decision that would haunt each parent like a bad nightmare for several days to come.
“They took all my jewelry,” Ana said. “They went through my hair and gave me a total pat-down. They took my fingerprints, took my picture, and wanted to know the address of family members here so we could prove we had some place to go.”
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, because of the overwhelming number of immigrants crossing the border, the conditions of the temporary facilities “are lacking in even the most basic services and conditions.”
For two days, Ana and her two sons slept on a bare, cement floor. It was cold, and they had no blankets. Her oldest son slept sitting up, while the younger son slept with his head on his brother’s leg.
“I didn’t eat or sleep for two days,” Ana said. “I was so scared. I began shaking. They asked why I hadn’t moved to a different place in Honduras. I told them because of the violence. They asked why I didn’t move to Mexico. I said I didn’t have family there. They wanted me to sign a form, but I was so scared. I didn’t speak English and didn’t understand what I was signing. I began to cry.
“One of the [guards/immigration officials] became so angry when I wouldn’t sign that he made a slashing motion across his throat. I was so scared I would be killed.”
Eventually her sister, who resides with Ana’s mother in southwest Kansas, convinced her by phone to sign the paper, and she and her two boys were released.
With no money and no food, the three stood helpless outside the detention center; Ana was crying. With little hope, a kind woman spotted them on the road and offered them her phone, which Ana used to call her sister. The woman took them to McDonalds and told them to order whatever they wanted. Ana was so distraught that she couldn’t eat. Then the woman took them to a Catholic church where Ana offered thanks to God.
A priest brought them to a “place for food and rest” where they slept two nights. “It was wonderful; I helped cook,” she said.
Even better than the food and shelter, is the fact that they offered help in finding her husband and daughter.
Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Ana’s mother and sister obtained the aid of a minister. He enlisted the help of his congregation to raise the gas money so that he personally drive to Texas, pick up Ana’s family, and bring them back to Kansas. It turned out that Ana’s husband and their little girl had been released after only two hours of incarceration, and had been given shelter by her husband’s friend in Dallas.
As the Register spoke to Ana, her husband and daughter were packing their bags to begin the end of their long journey. “They should be here tomorrow,” Ana said with a broad grin. “When we talk on the phone, we want to have each other in our arms so bad that we cry. He’s my support. He’s my shoulder.”
Soon they will have to report to the immigration office in Wichita where they will have the difficult task of proving that “the fear; the absolute fear” of staying in their homeland is real.
If they are unable to do so, the family faces the very real possibility of being deported back to the violence they left behind.