I want to finish the story of Mateo and Sofia, and their two small children, Lucia and Ernesto, and how they made it to New England after being abruptly forced to escape Honduras when gang members threatened their lives. You can read my first two posts about their escape here.
Across from Texas, Sofia and Ernesto were put on one kayak to cross a narrow river with a strong current, leaving Mateo and their daughter, Lucia, to board the second. But the smugglers heard gunfire as the first kayak approached the other shore and turned back his kayak.
They waited a long while, then tried to ford the river again. They got to the other shore and found no sign of the group from the first kayak, no sign of his wife and son.
Mateo gave himself and Lucia up to US Immigration and asked for asylum as refugees. As usual, he was given one phone call. If the person you’re calling doesn’t pick up, if s/he went to the store, to sleep, or to the bathroom, you’re out of luck and immediately deported to Mexico. His sister, living in this area, picked up and confirmed her relationship to him and that she was living here legally.
Mateo was beside himself with worry. He asked the Immigration authorities if they knew what happened to his wife and son, if they were going to be one of those families that had been split up at the border. Immigration didn’t know and gave him forms to fill out.
He wept as he recounted this now, terror that they’d been shot, that they had gotten lost or deported back to Mexico. Lucia didn’t understand what happened to her mother. She had slept before the kayaks had set off, and when she awoke her mother and brother were gone.
He finally discovered that his wife and son had been sent to a refugee center in California. There, the immigration officials planned to send everyone back to Mexico, with the exception of 18, who could stay, at least temporarily, in the US. Sofia’s name, with her daughter, was the very last name on the list.
Mateo and Lucia flew to Boston and were met by his sister. When they landed in Boston, Lucia turned to her father and said: “Can we sleep on a bed now?” For six months, they’d slept either on the floor or out in the open. He cried when he told me this.
Sofia and Ernesto arrived two weeks later, and the family was reunited.
They lived with his sister for a while, but it was very crowded. They also went to Boston right away to apply officially for asylum as refugees. That entire process will take a few years and cost them $16,600 in legal fees. The process will end with the judge’s decision, which can go either way. The lawyers say it’s 50/50.
They consider themselves lucky to be able to pay in monthly installments of $500.
Today, Mateo works, though he hasn’t yet obtained a work permit. He feels lucky that he made contact with another immigrant, who employs him to work 12-14 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. Like many American fathers, he wishes he had more time to spend with the kids.
Life is very expensive here. “You earn in dollars,” he says, “but you spend in dollars, too.”
Sofia is pregnant and takes English lessons. Occasionally she cooks for others to make more money, as she did in Chiapas.
The children love to go to school. They hate holidays and vacations.
“Do you have ambitions for yourself?” I ask.
He wants his children to get an education. He teaches them to value what they have and respect God. He doesn’t answer about himself; he looks too tired.
“What would you like Americans born here to know?” I ask him. “What is important for them to know?”
He answers quickly: “Don’t take for granted what you have. Take care of your families and be grateful.”
I wrote the story of this one family though there are many others with their stories of coming to America. Once here, they begin another story, the story of staying in America. Many are in the middle of obtaining legal status. Some get deported. They work however they can, at whatever pay is offered. More than anything, they want their children to go to school and get educated. I saw this a few evenings ago when I met with Jimena and saw the kids reading children’s books in English, their mothers beaming behind them.
These are the children we are trying to send to camp. Three weeks for 9 children cost $5,625. 6 weeks cost $11,125. We have already raised $6,577. Thank you very much for your kindness. These acts of generosity have a way of coming back and enriching our own lives as well. We can now send all 9 children to camp for 3 weeks, and if possible, we’ll send at least a few for 6 weeks. Whatever we do is still way more than they expect.
And on this Memorial Day weekend, I can’t think of adding anything more except for what Mateo said: “Take care of your families and be grateful.”