By Clara Kobashigawa and Bennett Baker, Feature Editor and Editor-in-Chief
//Only a few months ago, Sandra awoke at the crack of dawn, gathered her things, dressed her infant son, and left for America. With no plan and little money, she fled from Guatemala and never looked back.
Now a guest at the Oakland Catholic Worker, a place that provides temporary housing for undocumented immigrants, Sandra spoke to Blueprint through a translator on the condition that she was referred to by only her first name.
“The main reason why I left Guatemala was because of domestic violence,” Sandra said. “I made my decision to travel here between the night and the morning. I didn’t really have any plans.”
What Sandra thought would be an easy trip with buses, food, and blankets turned out to be the longest month of her life.
“I left without really knowing what [the journey] would be like. I heard stories from people who had made the journey before, but the reality is different,” Sandra said. “The people who organized the trip would lie and get excited about the journey, making us think there wouldn’t be suffering.”
And in her case, the reality was brutal. She and her infant son traveled by a trailer, at times going days without food and water. One of Sandra’s biggest fears was that she and her son would have to be in an enclosed vehicle for a long time. She was promised by the organizer of the trip that they would travel somewhat comfortably in buses; however, he had lied.
“I had heard stories that sometimes they put people in closed trailers, and I talked to the person and he told us, he promised [that we wouldn’t], but in fact we did do that and we were enclosed in a trailer for about 48 hours,” Sandra said.
Trapped in the trailer, Sandra could not tell if it was midday or midnight. She had to save crackers to give to her son so he would not cry. However, one day, she couldn’t contain his sobs.
Sandra, her son, and 110 other migrants huddled together in a truck made to hold 90 people. When they stopped at a Mexican immigration checkpoint, the officials heard her son crying.
“There was one checkpoint when they heard my son crying inside. The man insisted that they open up and see what was inside,” Sandra said. “The driver said no. But the Mexican official said that they needed to open up [the truck] and that they would kill everybody inside.”
But the driver continued to refuse and convinced the officers to let them through the checkpoint. The aliens were trapped in the truck for nearly 20 minutes with no ventilation and sadly had to leave some people behind.
“They could open a part of the truck so they could breathe again, but they said the people who passed out, they would leave them,” Sandra said.
Then Sandra, her son, and the rest of the immigrants were dropped off in Mexico City and waited for further transportation. They did not receive any food for the 48 hours that they waited. Sandra was instructed to bring water and crackers, but she did not have enough to last her and her son the full 48 hours.
Sandra believed that things would get easier. She was told by the organizer that the trip from Mexico City to the U.S. would be more comfortable. The group of 110 people was divided into groups of around 40 and were placed on buses.
Although the trip was more comfortable than the previous experiences, it all changed when they had to cross the border fence. As Sandra and her son jumped the fence, immigration officers caught them in Phoenix, Texas. They were then detained in a jail for a few days.
“The jail was totally closed and we couldn’t tell when it was day or night,” Sandra said. “They didn’t give us blankets and it was really cold. They gave us a juice and a little cup of soup three times a day.”
After three days of enduring the harsh conditions, Sandra and her son were transferred to another place in Phoenix. Here they were given food and places to sleep.
They stayed at the place for two days and were then taken to another shelter in Texas. This shelter was nicer that the previous shelters. At the shelter, there were little houses and the undocumented immigrants received medical exams and shots.
They were given a decent amount of food and her son even received milk. The two stayed at the shelter for around ten days. Although it was nicer compared to previous living conditions, many people died.
“There really wasn’t enough there to take care of people. One girl was got sick and was vomiting and had diarrhea. She ended up dying because they said they didn’t have the medicine that she needed,” Sandra said.
Her son also became very ill and was unable to receive the help he needed. After he received his shots, he got a tremendously high fever. However, he would only get them in the dead of night, when the clinic was closed. So she left that shelter in Texas and was able to come to Oakland, where she has family.
“Since being in Oakland, I’ve felt a lot more calm and after having gone through that journey,” Sandra said.
Though escaping the shelters was a relief, she was branded with a constant memory of her journey, her ankle tracker. When leaving the shelter in Texas, she had the anklet placed on her foot. Because she came over by crossing the border she had to get it attached. If Sandra had came to the U.S. by crossing a bridge, she would not have had to wear the device because she would have had to ask for asylum. Unfortunately for Sandra, she was unable to pay her way out of the anklet and came by land.
“When I was going to be leaving [the shelter in Texas], I didn’t know whether or not they were going to put the anklet on me. I was under the impression that they wouldn’t, but they caught us one by one and I was in the first group,” Sandra said. “They said ‘Okay, which foot did you want it on, right or left?’ I felt like I just wanted to run away at that point.”
According to Amber McChesney-Young, a volunteer at Oakland Catholic Worker, there are a few reasons that an undocumented immigrant will not receive an anklet.
“You give the deportation officers money and they won’t put the anklet on you,” McChesney-Young said. “My impression is that it’s kind of a judgment call on the part of the deportation officer.”
Sandra currently is staying at the Oakland Catholic Worker headquarters near Fruitvale and is struggling to find a stable job.
“In Guatemala, I was always independent and able to pay for my own things, but here it’s been very difficult especially with the anklet because I’ll go to apply for jobs and the first thing they’ll say is, ‘Do you have the anklet?’” Sandra said. “I can’t lie and I have to tell them yes. Then they say they can’t hire me.”
Sandra is currently in the process of deportation, but she has hired a lawyer to help seek asylum. For now, her goal is to find a stable job.
“Also [Oakland Catholic Worker] is going to work with me on trying to get the anklet off,” Sandra said. “That’ll be a huge help because without that, it’ll be a lot easier to find work.”