Seeking asylum, migrants share their shocking stories in LA immigration court

USA Today 1 month ago

Jeffrey, a native of Honduras, was continuously persecuted for identifying as a member of the LGBT community. After being badly beaten by a Honduras gang known as A team, he migrated to the United States with his son. His journey took two months and along the journey, he stayed in four camps.

Jose, 51, from Ciudad Real, Guatemala, had heard about gang members extorting businesses in his home country. When he was threatened by several men in his place of work, he went to the police. Once he arrived at the police station, he quickly realized that the police had been behind the whole operation. "One of the guys … took out his knife and he said, ‘Well this is what you've earned,'" Jose said. The police proceeded to physically torture him, carving his chest. A large scar is still visible on his chest. Jose said the men also warned him that, if he didn’t pay them thousands of Guatemalan quetzales, they knew where his 13-year-old son Marlon attended school. The father and son left Guatemala, arriving in the United States in May 2017. At the border, the two were apprehended and separated. Jose was taken to New Mexico and Marlon was taken to San Antonio, Texas. They eventually reunited two months later at an alvergue, a privately-run shelter for migrants. Both of them are currently seeking asylum through the Los Angeles Immigration Court.

Mira Santos, 45, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, ran a high school cafeteria, until gang members in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, extorted her. The members left her a notice, saying they would trash her business if she didn’t pay them 1,000 Honduran lempiras — approximately $41 dollars — every Sunday. “It’s extortion but they call it rent,” Santos said. She didn’t believe them at first, and soon after they ransacked her cafeteria. “They took everything they could,” she said. “What they couldn’t take, they destroyed.”

Jacqueline, 38, from El Salvador, left home for the United States with only $70 dollars. On her seven-month journey, she was kidnapped by narcos in Mexico and put to work for two and a half months in the city of Champas. She only said escaped with the help of several men from a nearby church. “A miracle from God” was how she summed up her arrival in the United States. In El Salvador, she was a shopkeeper, selling shoes and clothes back home to support her three children. Once a gang began to extort her for money, it was only three months before she had to close her shop. When she fled, she left much of her money with her three children. She said she constantly worries about their safety back home. “I need to bring my kids [here],” Jacqueline said, tears streaming down her face. “I need to work. I need to do something for them.”

José Antonio, 24, from San Miguel, El Salvador, was repeatedly beaten by gang members injuring him all over his body. The men had tormented him for months. First, they showed up at his place of work, demanding that he pay them. After he changed jobs, they found him again at the new leather store where he worked. For a while, he said his family had to scrape by on $4 a day. Life quickly became unsustainable for Jose Antonio, his wife and his children. He remembers the night when he decided to leave El Salvador vividly. “What do I do?” José Antonio remembers asking himself. “I cried all night seeing what my life was like.” He left his life behind one day in early April and arrived in the United States on May 1, where he sought refuge with a cousin.

Noemi is from Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala, a city bordering Belize. She said it’s also a prime location for contraband cigar sales between the two countries. She said all six of her brothers were tied up in the business, as was her husband — whom she refers to as such despite the fact they weren’t married. She realized it was time for her to leave Guatemala when her brother-in-law was murdered. Although police tracked down Selvin Ordoñez’s killer, the pain didn’t fade. “It doesn’t just leave kids without giving classes, but rather three kids without their father and a mother and brother suffering,” Noemi said. “Since that day, we couldn’t sleep peacefully.” Her husband left for the United States and, soon after, she followed suit.

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