While many might say Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger (Matt. 25:31-35) is simple and straightforward, attempts to put that call into practice in U.S. immigration policy have been anything but. Debates about immigration, refugees, and asylum-seekers rage on with seemingly no end in sight, while anti-immigrant policies and practices—such as Title 42 and the separation of families at the southern border—are allowed to quietly continue.
Amid this conflict, there seems to be one consistent, glaring absence: the voices of those most affected by these injustices—migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. While Americans debate this or that policy, these individuals are given few to no opportunities to tell their stories.
In an effort to center the voices of those that most need to be heard on this issue, U.S. Catholic reached out to the Kino Border Initiative, who put us in contact with Carlota (name changed for security), who first sought asylum in 2021 and was allowed to enter the United States to continue the process in 2022. The following are her own words (translated from Spanish) describing her experience seeking asylum.
My name is Carlota*, and I had to flee my town because of violence. But before that, our life in the village was very beautiful. I loved living on the hillside in southern Mexico. It was very calm, very happy. On a typical day, I would put the firewood in the fireplace, grind corn at the mill to make tortillas, and start preparing lunch. We planted beans, corn, green tomatoes, garlic, and manzano peppers, also known as boloncho peppers.
I loved harvesting the peaches and milking the cows. It was all laughs, looking for the cows and tying them up, because if you grabbed a calf from a wild cow, they would chase you. When that happened, some of us had to run for the hills. How we laughed! We would drink the fresh milk out of glasses, and sometimes we would put chocolate in it.
In 2018, things started to change. Rivalries began between families. July 8 was the last dance that took place in our town. We remember it because it was the first birthday of a girl named Lizeth*. There was a meeting of the men of the village, where they said that those who decided to stay in the village had to arm themselves and defend their own houses. Whoever did not agree had to leave the town with their family. You knew that by leaving, you were going to lose your house and everything you had.
Sometimes people from other countries wonder why we can’t count on the police to protect us. We had several confrontations [with armed groups], and we always thought that the government would do something for our people. But it was never like that. There were even shootings inside the town where the military did not [come help us] until the incident was all over.
One of the many deaths was that of a man I will call Vicencio to protect his identity. He was a 63-year-old man, very strong and hard-working. He brought gasoline to the town and had a store as well. One day in the summer he came to ask us for a ride because he had left his truck down in town, at the shop. But we had a Bible class, and we told him that once it was finished, we would give him a ride. Another family was going to drive down before us, so he went with them instead.
A few hours later, they called us on the radio, the only means of communication that we have there. They told us not to go down because he had died at the side of the road. A group of women went down by motorcycle to get the body. As soon as they were able to communicate with the town, they announced that it was Vicencio. They found him with a broken neck. The soldiers didn’t move from their post, because they said they needed an official request in order to respond [to the situation].
My family was one of those that decided to leave and start the journey to the U.S. border. As we had already gone through several big scares, it was the only good option they left us. We arrived in Nogales, Arizona in spring 2021 with the hope that we would be able to get asylum in the United States, but we got the news that the asylum had closed indefinitely due to Title 42. Before that date, people had the ability to access an exception to Title 42. But after that date, they closed the window. They said that because of the pandemic we couldn’t get through. Someone from the Kino Border Initiative team told us that we were the first family to whom they had to give that bad news. To date, Title 42 continues to be used to dehumanize and demean people.
My two children and I, even when we learned that there was no asylum because of Title 42, did not lose faith. I can proudly tell you that several other migrants and I made the decision to form a group called “Los Revolucionarios,” which was made up of five men and 10 women. We organized ourselves to raise our voices about the injustices we experienced at the border. We were among the first, but since then other people who arrive at the border join the team of migrant leaders. We held several marches, and in September 2021 we held our first vigil. For 10 days we organized vigils at 8 in the morning to call attention to what we were experiencing. Later we continued to do more alongside migrants from other countries, such as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Cuba, and Haiti. The last march I participated in was in March of last year.
There is too much corruption in Mexico. Even government officials cannot protect themselves because criminal groups are in charge. It is very sad. People think that because we are in Mexico, because we are at the border, that it will be an easier wait. They don’t know that the rent is too expensive. They don’t know that we still suffer from crime at the hands of the [criminal] groups at the border. Even taking a taxi is dangerous at the border.
In the neighborhood where I was living at the border, I heard about a girl who fled with her 3-year-old daughter because her husband was in a cartel and was beating her. When she moved to the border, she thought that the cartel had no way to communicate with her. She changed her phone number and created a fake social media profile to hide her location. But a video came out that enabled her ex-husband to locate her. He sent someone to Nogales asking for the girl. She couldn’t even file a complaint [against the girl’s father] because she knew he had ties to the commanders [of the criminal group]. We no longer hear from her. Unfortunately, being in Mexico and fleeing from a Mexican criminal group, you are not protected at all.
Finally, after a year of waiting, the day of that long-awaited call arrived at 11 a.m. It was one of the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project lawyers: “Carlota, your case has been accepted to continue your process in the United States.”
That day I did not sleep, giving thanks on my knees to my God, for having heard my prayers day and night. Always during those months I asked God to give us faith and strength. We always accepted God’s will, because we knew that it would be in God’s time when we could go to the United States. The next day I had my COVID-19 test, and the day after that, I had to show up at the Dennis DeConcini Point of Entry in Nogales.
We crossed [into the United States] in May 2022. They gave us an officer with the last name of Pam. I imagined myself sitting there and seeing God behind Pam, telling me to come on in and continue my process. I spent 2.5 hours sitting with my children in that office at the port of entry. They asked me three questions, took our fingerprints, and took a saliva sample. They asked for my documents, my children’s birth certificates, COVID-19 tests, and proof of vaccinations. They gave me a court date for September 2022.
But the battle did not end there. We finally arrived in a country where we knew that we would be protected and without fear. But in that same country you don’t know the language, and you can’t work until they give you a work permit. Lawyers are too expensive, but [legal counsel] is necessary to be able to stay here. It has not been easy. My children are learning English. Although it was very difficult for them to adjust to everything at the beginning, now they are adjusting well. And now I’m also going to English classes.
I continue to thank God because there are many organizations that have helped us.
We have been able to form a group called “Revolucionarios USA,” where the compañeros that have managed to get through (although we are still in the asylum process) help each other with information about what it is like to be here, where to go for health care, schools, lawyers and more. I know that my God has a plan for my life and my family, and I know that God is good, because God always wants the best for us. So far God has kept us safe.
Hearing that the Biden administration started expelling people from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua makes me sad. For me it is very unfair because it is so difficult for them, being from more distant countries, to cross through so many places to get here. They bring that hope and once they are here [in Mexico], they are just beginning to rearrange their lives, and then the government responds to you like that.
But the government doesn’t know why you came. They are going to send you back, and people are going to kill you. Most people come to the United States with the fear of returning home, because if you return, death is what awaits you. It’s either that or work with the armed groups, doing bad things. Although I am now safely with my family in the United States, I remember very well what it was like to wait for a trial in an unsafe place. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone else.
*Name has been changed