There and Back Again
A an undocumented immigrant’s journey to the United States
“To provide for my family, to support them so they can have something better.”
That is what Juan said his reasoning was when he packed up a few belongings and provisions to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. He is an undocumented immigrant who has been living and working in the United States for eight years; he’s currently working on a dairy farm in upstate New York. He agreed to go on record under the condition of using an alias for fear of deportation, Juan is not his real name. His decision to leave his family and come to the United States was a difficult but relatively quick decision. He had a wife, one year old daughter, and a three year old son in Mexico. Both he and his wife worked to support themselves but it was not enough. Juan told his wife that he had brothers in the United States working that wanted could help him get work but at first, his wife disagreed with him.
A month passed and Juan tried a different approach, he told his wife that he wanted something for his children, to provide for them, to build a house of their own and to be able to keep some money in the bank. When Juan pleaded his case, with his children and family as his reasoning, she relented. He left his home and headed to the United States; that was eight years ago.
Ten days in a desert. That is what Juan paid fifteen hundred dollars for to get to the United States. A sum of money that he borrowed from one of his brothers in order to pay the coyote, the smugglers that guide undocumented migrants across the border. His brother sent the money shortly after Juan and his wife agreed that he would go and work in the US. Juan’s journey began from his home where it took him one day of travel to reach a hotel by the border where he and other hopeful migrants would meet the coyote.
After meeting with the coyote, Juan and the others were taken to a trail 30 minutes away where they would begin the walking portion of their journey under the cover of night. This trail led them into the desert, most likely the Sonoran Desert in the southwestern United States based on where Juan traveled too though he was not able to confirm. “In the desert we spent a lot of time there, we only had tuna and tostadas to eat and to drink only water,” Juan said as he recounted his crossing, “after walking ten days we got to Phoenix, Arizona.” Juan was told by his brother that he would only be walking for a number of hours, he had not expected to be walking for days. According to the coyote the reason why they had to take a long journey was because the other route was “burned” because there was too much illegal immigration traffic, so they had to take a more roundabout way to Phoenix. Luckily Juan and his group did not have much trouble on their trip over the border into Phoenix.
Upon arriving in Phoenix, Juan and the other immigrants were taken to a house for two days at the end of that two day period the coyote brought them to Atlanta. This is where Juan ran into his first problem. Juan was the only one in his group with destination north of Atlanta, because of that the coyote did not take him to his intended destination of New York but left him stranded in Atlanta. Juan was alone, illegally in another country, knowing no english, and in real danger of deportation if he was discovered. Help came from a fellow Mexican whom Juan had never met before from San Luis Potosi. According to Juan the man from San Luis took Juan into his home, fed him and brought him all the way from Georgia to New York. Juan ended up paying that man the money he saved for the coyote because he was the one who got him to New York, a fifteen hour trip for fifteen hundred dollars.
Immigration, legal and illegal, is not a new issue in the United States. According to Contemporary World Issues : Illegal Immigration, there have been 75 million legal immigrants that have come into the United States since such records began being recorded in 1820, and since the 1970s about 10-15 million have entered or become illegal immigrants. The influx of illegal immigration in the 1970s are linked to policies allowing workers from Mexico to come and work in the U.S. during World War II. The program discontinued in 1964 but the flow of immigrants did not.
Today, immigration is still at the forefront of concerns of U.S. citizens. From 1986 to 2012 the number of illegal immigrants almost quadrupled, from 3.2 million to 11.2 million. These migrants are driven from their own countries by violence, and by severe poverty in areas in their native country. Mexicans, like Juan, make up 60 percent of Hispanic immigrants and usually are coming from rural and small town areas in terrible poverty.
In politics, with the Democratic and Republican primaries in full swing there have been some controversial statements and stances taken by some of the candidates. Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate favored “building a wall” and mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. The general public seem to differ from Trump’s views; according to a poll done by Pew research, 72% of Americans think that undocumented immigrants should have a way of staying legally if they meet certain requirements. While 41% of Americans still also view immigrants as a burden because they believe they take up jobs and other resources. With such differing views across the country, it’s very apparent how immigration and illegal immigration are major issues in the coming elections.
Juan made the dangerous and illegal trip north or the border in order to work and provide for his family, which is almost all he does. Juan works six days a week and sometimes seven if it is a particularly busy week or if some of the other workers leave. He sends money back to his family twice month. He’s worked on two dairy farms in Upstate New York and the one he was previously working at, with his brothers, was less than ideal. The farm owners wouldn’t let Juan and the other undocumented immigrants go out and leave the farm.
Though they were paid, Juan and the others were essentially trapped on the farm and only taken out to get food and supplies every fifteen days. He lived that way for seven years before leaving and finding the farm he’s at now. Juan has been working at this new farm for over a year and things are a lot better at his current place. “Here, on our off days they do let us go out and distract ourselves.”
At the farm that he works right now Juan enjoys freedoms of going out and going to the stores whenever he’s not working. Even with these new liberties he still has his worries about being captured by border patrol and being deported. “Other people, they go to the store or something and immigration police catch them and they’re sent back to Mexico, so that’s why we have that fear.” Living in fear of deportation is part Juan’s everyday life, tedious and constant like milking the cows, cleaning the stables, and feeding the calves.
Juan’s journey to the U.S. was over eight years ago. Eight years in which he’s only spoken to his family on the phone, only seen them in photos, and eight years in which he has not been able to hug his wife and children or tell them, face-to-face, that he loves them. His yearning to go home and see his family has not ceased. “The boy is 11 and I really miss him, I miss him too much; I honestly want to see them I really want to see them soon. The girl I also miss...she always tells me me ‘dad, I want to hug you’ and sometimes I do start crying.” Juan wants to go back to his family, permanently, in December of this year.
He said he’s been thinking about going back since 2013. “I had the idea of going back but I thought about it a lot but things in Mexico were much harder, so that’s why I stayed here for longer.” Now Juan says his wife and family are doing well and they have a house of their own to live in. He also was able to send enough money to invest in starting own business, his wife and his brothers were able to open an office supply shop in near his home in Mexico which his wife manages. “Thank God, I’ve done better and now my family’s okay and my girl, my girl has everything that she needs.” While Juan is thankful for his time here and the opportunity to provide for his family, he has no desire to make the U.S. his permanent home or bring his family here. “Honestly, the truth is, I don’t think I’ll be back once I go back to Mexico.”
Images and Video by Meg Oliphant, Dani Lyman and Elijah S. Walker. Article Elijah S. Walker. Special Thanks to Santiago Otero for translation.