The Three Thousand Mile Trip to New York of a Venezuelan Family

Date:

The Three Thousand Mile Trip to New York of a Venezuelan Family

  • News by AUN News correspondent
  • Thursday, March 02, 2023
  • AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090

Summary:

  • A quarter of a million individuals tried to cross the Darién Gap last year.

  • The smuggler abandoned the family at the foot of a mountain known as the Hill of Death.

  • Yenis and Alexis painstakingly travelled the remaining three thousand miles from Panama to South Texas by walking, using buses, hitchhiking, and asking for money.

  • Yenis, Alexis, and Diana, now a year old, landed in Piedras Negras, Mexico, just feet from the Rio Grande River, three months after leaving Colombia.

  • Each lined up to construct a human chain across the Rio Grande.

One of Alexis’ cousins decided to seek his fortune in America last year. He and his wife left northern Colombia, walked and drove through five more countries, and then went through the Darién Gap to get to Panama. How long they could legally remain in the country was unclear, but the rest of the family didn’t care. According to the pair, American life was rich, vibrant, and full of promise. Soon after, Yenis’ sister-in-law Yorgelis questioned whether she and Alexis could envision living in the United States. Yenis was asked to join a family group chat called La Selva, or the Jungle, and after she promptly replied “Yes,” she was given the option to do so.

Alexis informed everyone in the group that they were insane. He had heard scary stories about the Darién Gap, where the number of people trying to cross the forest and the number of people dying there had increased dramatically. Those who did spoke of families being swept away by raging rivers, armed strangers dragging women into the underbrush, and youngsters emerging alone from the jungle’s twisting paths after their parents could not pass through. “Think about the baby; think about you,” Alexis implored his wife, who was freshly pregnant.

The jungle of the Darién Gap can be seen as Yenis and Diana, who was a year old at the time, walk through it. At that time, Yenis was expecting.

Even though Yenis knew the risks, it was hard for him to imagine a promising future for Colombia. The pandemic had taken a financial toll on the family, and their debts had continued to mount. “If I’m going to live day by day here, I’d rather live day by day in Venezuela,” she told Alexis, who faced treason accusations in their native nation. The last thing her husband said was, “If you get raped, there will be nothing I can do to stop it.” We must assume our daughter is missing if they take her hostage. Then he questioned Yenis, “Are you willing to go through that?” “To live with it on your mind for the rest of our days?” His wife was prepared to take a chance.

The couple listed everything for sale as they had when escaping Venezuela. They raised $500, some of which they used to purchase the essentials for the journey, such as a tent, mountain boots, insect spray, and raincoats. Yorgelis had talked to a smuggler on the app TikTok, where people traffickers advertise “safe” and “guaranteed” flights to the U.S. The smuggler suggested two possible crossing points on the Darién. The family could walk through the jungle once a week for about $200 per person. They could take a shortcut and travel to Panama in three days for an extra $100 each.

The family decided to take the longest journey and set the 26th of May as the departure date to fit everyone’s budget. Alexis, Yenis, and their daughter would be joined by eleven family members, including four kids between the ages of one and seven. The pair boarded a bus with the rest of the group bound for Necocl, a seaside town on the farthest southern tip of the Caribbean Sea, carrying several hundred dollars in cash. Since Necocl is where the boats that travel to the jungle depart, it is a required stop for most migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Bangladesh, or Uzbekistan. A quarter of a million individuals tried to cross the Darién Gap last year.

Yenis plays a video from her phone showing her mother-in-law, Karina, traveling with other migrants over the Rio Grande to reach Texas from Mexico.

The family planned to buy in Necocl a camping stove, five or six gas canisters, a variety of canned foods, pasta, and rice. They chose to rely on the rivers in the jungle because carrying water was too difficult. After Necocl, the family would go to Capurganá, a village at the bottom of the Darién Gap, where South America and Central America meet. Those who give up on their journey through the Darién region or sustain injuries while traveling are frequently discovered by the side of the trail, waiting for nature to do its thing. There are many paths through the jungle, all full of things like broken furniture and human bones that show how desperate the migrants were. Alexis and Yenis took their stove and gas canisters off at some point to lighten their load, just like others had done before them. Over the last few days, they went without meals.

The smuggler abandoned the family at the foot of a mountain known as the Hill of Death. The migrants thought it was the most challenging part of the trip, where even a tiny mistake could kill them. Alexis intended to camp at the bottom and get up early the following day because he had read that it took roughly five hours to ascend the steep slope. He said to me, “But we couldn’t remain.” “The smell of death was unbearable.” The family finally crossed after six hours, confident they were close to the Panamanian border. Days later, after crossing a few rivers and paying an indigenous tribe to allow them to camp out for the night in exchange for payment, Alexis and Yenis arrived at a migrant camp, where they were helped by UN personnel. The rest of the family was secure, with Diana’s bronchitis being the only exception. They had avoided the Darién Gap.

Yenis and Alexis painstakingly travelled the remaining three thousand miles from Panama to South Texas by walking, using buses, hitchhiking, and asking for money. The family relied on numerous strangers as they travelled across Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. These people gave them rides in their cars, let them stay in their homes, or left them dollar bills in their cups. As time passed, the voyage grew increasingly Darwinian since not every family member had enough money to travel to the border with the United States. Individuals with better money travelled across Mexico and Central America more quickly. Yenis and Alexis lagged behind the rest of the group, moving more slowly due to the pregnancy and having less money.

The family had to bargain with local authorities and human traffickers along the route. According to Alexis, they spent a month and a half travelling across Mexico, where it was difficult to distinguish between an immigration officer and a smuggler. The couple saw numerous more migrants, mainly from Venezuela, close to the southern border. Many Venezuelan immigrants were held by the U.S. Border Patrol and then let into the country while their immigration cases were being decided. From 2015 to 2019, about fifty Venezuelans were taken into custody each month near the southwest border. But last August and September, around the time Yenis and her husband travelled north, the number increased to about 60,000. As political pressure grew, the Biden administration started working on a new plan to stop these border crossings.

Yenis, Alexis, and Diana, now a year old, landed in Piedras Negras, Mexico, just feet from the Rio Grande River, three months after leaving Colombia. Alexis grew restless; he was closer to the United States than ever before but was too worried about other things to appreciate it properly. In previous days, several migrants had drowned while attempting to cross the river. What if he and his family experienced it? Alexis questioned. His father’s texts from across the ocean continued to ping through his phone. His father told him, “Mijo, they’re sending many people back to Mexico.” The following day, Alexis got his family up at five to get to the river while it was quiet. As he moved north, a man raced before him, holding Diana close to his chest. “Jefe! Do you intend to cross? Alexis automatically yelled. Sure, he responded.

A middle-aged woman, three daughters, and one boy followed the man in his wake; Alexis and Yenis tried to catch up with them. “How does it look?” The man, who had slowed down to pass through a dense stretch of vegetation, was asked by Alexis. Alexis took the fact that the man didn’t say anything as a sign that he was comfortable in his surroundings. They arrived at a hilltop with a riverbed view in just a few minutes. Alexis hurried to dip his feet to the water’s edge because it appeared to have a gentle flow. As Yenis was getting ready to cross, Alexis discovered that the mother in the other group was from El Salvador and was with her four children. Each lined up to construct a human chain across the Rio Grande.

Before getting into the water, Yenis turned her back on the river to make it easier on her stomach. She stopped on an islet in the middle of the river to catch her breath, and the others gathered around her. The woman from El Salvador confided in them that she needed a favor. In contrast to Venezuelans, she had heard that adult Salvadorans were not allowed into the United States. Like Alexis and Yenis, she and her children had been through too much to risk being deported. So she told her son and daughter they had to finish the last part of the trip independently. They looked at each other but couldn’t speak because they were too busy worrying about Diana and their child-to-be. The woman started to wade away before they had a chance to object. She begged, “Please take care of them.”

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