Crossing the Border

by Melanie Ramos

“I know what it’s like to have hopes and dreams when coming to the United States and to have them torn down at the border. I lived that experience not once but twice. What they are doing is just inhumane,” Julio A. said. The detention of immigrants, the policy of separating children from parents and the hostility towards immigrants upsets him, “Seeing that on TV had to break my heart,” he told us

The twenty-seven-year-old came to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, and his struggle to get here remains fresh in his mind. He works two jobs, including one as a busboy at a restaurant in lower Manhattan. His fiancée Jessica G. says, “He is honestly a great guy and the most hard-working man I know. He works six days a week, two jobs to be able to live decently.”

The news stories about President Trump’s effort to stop migrants at the U.S. border bring back memories of his own dramatic story, of his failed attempts to enter the U.S., and how he finally made it. He described it as “…the most terrifying experience I have ever lived, the worst part was there was no turning back.”

From the time he was thirteen, it was common to hear people talk about crossing the border with friends and relatives paying “coyotes” to help get them to the U.S. In 2012, when he turned 18, he became curious about the opportunities he could have if he crossed the border. His parents in Pueblo, Mexico, opposed the idea, but it did not stop Julio from pursing his dream. He and a friend found a coyote willing to help them cross for $8,000.

They flew from Puebla to Reynosa, Mexico where they expected to meet a coyote at the airport. “Getting off the airplane, there was already an off feeling. I felt my heart sink and breath getting shorter. Not only because of what I was about to do but because Reynosa is a very dangerous city owned by cartels and drug lords,” Julio recalled.

The coyote did not show up and Julio and his friend rented a motel room. Four days later, the coyote contacted them. He told the young men to go to the neighboring village where he would pick them up. Julio and his friend were taken to a house with about thirty others who hoped to cross. Four or five days later, unaware of how they were going to cross, Julio, his friend and ten others hopped into a van. Three hours later, they were at the Rio Grande, the river between Mexico and the United States.

When it comes to crossing, immigrants describe it two ways: wet and dry. Wet is when one crosses through the river and dry is when one crosses through the desert.

“At this point, I am regretting everything. The only thing I can think of is of what I am leaving behind, which is my family,” Julio said. At the river, Julio and another twenty people were herded on to a boat. He said, “It’s pitch black and around 10 p.m. I can see the moon’s reflection perfectly on the river as we start. It’s like a twenty or thirty minute cross when finally we reach the American side.”

Once they got out of the boat, trouble started. “Not two minutes have passed when suddenly, two, three, four immigration vans from all over start popping up with their sirens. Everybody started running for their life. I ran into a bush but tripped over and the helicopter light spotted me, making the ground guards catch me. Somehow, I managed to escape, ran for two minutes, but tripped over again and got caught again,” he explained in sorrow.

In the span of seven to eight days, Julio was in three different jail facilities until finally U.S. law enforcement officers set him free in Mexicali, Mexico. There he managed to get in contact with a coyote who told him he had no other choice but to try to cross again, if not he would lose the money he paid. Scared and worried, Julio returned to the refugee house where he had stayed before.

Three days later, he and ten other people returned to the Rio Grande. When they arrived on the American side, they walked until they reached a wall.  Julio said he felt excited, “At this point, I had made it much farther than the first time. In my head I said, I am finally going to make it. As we start crossing that damn wall, the migration vans are hiding on the left and right side on the other side of the wall ready to catch you. Sirens go on and I run back to the river but the boat was gone.”

He felt frightened but determined not to get caught again. He managed to hide under a bush. A couple of hours later, he heard two other men from his group talking nearby. Once all three united, one of them called the coyote and asked him to send someone to take them back to Mexico. The coyote did not want to risk sending a boat. So he sent a floating tire instead. Julio and the two men grabbed on and swam back across the river to Mexico.

They swam for an hour and when they reached Reynosa, the coyote’s men took them back to the house where they started. Julio was ready to give up, go home and stay in Mexico. The coyote, again, told him he had no choice but to cross or lose all the money he had paid. Julio decided to try it again rather than lose $8,000.

Julio made his third try to get to the United States at 10 p.m. the next night. He and 15 others huddled on the boat crossing the Rio Grande. When they reached American soil, they did not walk towards the wall. They headed in a different direction. Julio remembered, “It was a two-hour walk, and no signs of migration vans. I felt a sense of relief to know I had made this far this third time.”

They eventually found a fence and had to crawl under the electrified wire to get into McAllen, Texas. “From there on it was all farms and more farms, and just walking for hours until getting to Houston, Texas,” he said. It took two days to get to Houston, and then he got into a van that brought him to New York City

Seven years later, Julio reflected calmly and said, “The experience of crossing, of living on the edge, of starving and failing shapes you differently. You grow into a different person. Not even to mention once you get here, the starting over. Literally starting over, no clothes, no shoes, no knowledge of where you are or whom you are with. Learning a new language, looking for a job and starting in lowest of the lowest position. It’s not easy, but it makes you a much, much stronger person,” he said.

Julio’s Peso, Photo by Melanie Ramos

Julio carries around a Mexican peso he brought with him when he left Mexico. It is the only souvenir from that time. He says it reminds him of the struggle he had to go through and even though he suffered, it made him the man he is today.

Julio is just one of the thousands who have crossed the border. According to Pew Research center, as of 2016 there were 12.0 million immigrants from Mexico living in the United States. Roughly, 45 percent of them are illegal residents.

Genesis M., Julio’s coworker, and close friend, says, “Julio is one of the realest persons I know. I also know he went through a lot to get here, so to hear news stories about Mexicans being criminals and rapists, it boils my blood because not everybody is like that. People sometimes can be so ignorant…”

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