This is one story of many, anonymous amongst the masses, one of the people who cleans your house or your car, fixes your roof, cooks your 5 star meal or mows your lawn for you; one of the people who pays into the system but who never asks for any of it back; one of the people who is so often cited as the cause of all issues by politicians but who you don’t even notice in your everyday activities. While this is one person’s personal story, it is also the story of millions of people, dating back decades.
In the Dead of the Night
It didn’t really take that long to organize, it’s not as if I was the first person to make the journey, and I was definitely not the last to. The network runs like clockwork, via word of mouth, safe houses, people who know certain routes so well they could do them blindfolded, with headphones on and turned round and round before setting off. The entire process may be dictated by money, but it’s a well-oiled machine, you just don’t pay the ferryman until he gets you to the other side. Wherever you are in the US you have met one of us, although you probably have no idea that you have. And that’s fine, because that’s the whole point: we come here to work hard and to cause no trouble. Although that’s not what some politicians would have you believe.
It’s been years, but I still remember it all quite vividly. The sudden noises in the middle of the silent black night, the bright, sweeping light of a helicopter approaching, throwing myself to the ground, face pressed into the dirt and stones, the freezing cold AC blasting in the detention center, and then doing it all over again two days later. I’m lucky; I only had to try twice. Others aren’t so lucky. You see our faces, but you can’t really imagine the stories behind them. You can’t really imagine the sacrifices that we have made and why we made the decision to go. And we don’t really care that you don’t know, because you can only try to understand, but you never will really.
I don’t even know why I decided to go anymore. It was what was best for my family at the time I suppose. There is no point in wondering how things would have been if I hadn’t left, as I did, and this is my life now. I packed a few things and made my way to the next town over where I was given a plane ticket and a few instructions. You didn’t really write much down, just memorized what you were told. And you kept your mouth shut. The less people who knew where you are going, the better. People talk, and talk doesn’t help anybody.
I landed somewhere near the border where I spent a night in a hotel, waiting for dark until we started out on our way. You may think that people just randomly try to cross the border at any given time, but it’s not that simple. I mean we aren’t stupid… The light of the moon may provide guidance but it also makes you visible from miles away, a perfect target for border control or for thieves, murderers and rapists. I’m not one of the latter, nor do I have drugs on me. Actually all I have on me is a few gallons of water, a change of clothes, and about $300 for food and other small necessities. Dark clothes for the crossing, clean clothes for the next step. But there are always people lurking, preying on those who, if they survive, will never dare to go to the authorities. If you have to get caught by someone, it’s probably best that it be border control. Nobody wants to imagine anything else.
There were about 20 of us, walking single file, staying as close as possible in the dark, silent, listening to our hearts beating, wondering if anyone could hear them. A broken stick seemed to reverberate for miles; a stone scuttling down a hillside became a siren pointing towards our existence. One night, two nights, three nights, sleeping in dry river beds during the day, hiding from the sun and police and anyone else who wanted us gone. On the third night we were told to listen carefully and to duck whenever anyone said to, duck as fast as possible, play dead until the danger passed. I can’t remember how many times I threw myself to the ground, head in the sand and stones, daring not to think of snakes and scorpions that were lurking, waiting for my code name to be called, the sign I could get up and move along. It was one for all and all for one. We were together for a few days, banded on this journey, never to see each other again. The fence, so significant in our minds, so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, as the danger wasn’t over once you put your foot on the other side, it was just the beginning.
There is silence and then suddenly the sound of a helicopter above, sweeping its lights across the plains, looking for us, or others like us. You can hear the border patrol trucks driving around, headlights off and then on. We would wait and then move along, coming to roads here and there, waiting, then running as fast as we could across, hoping that we would make it safely to the other side without being seen. And then, after three days of interminable walking and ducking and hiding and keeping our fingers crossed so tightly they were beginning to hurt it happened. We ran across the road and just as I threw myself into the grass on the other side the lights of a truck lit up the road, our coyotes yelled “DUCK” and people started running in all directions. I stayed hidden with a few others, but we ended up getting picked up a little way down the road.
The detention center was freezing, but I was lucky and they only detained me for 12 hours, I suppose because it was my first time trying. I’ve heard that laws are a little different nowadays and it can be much, much longer. Then again, I doubt that I would be doing the journey all these years later anyway. Not with all of the hindsight that I have now.
They dropped me off back in my home country, right across the border. I went back to the safe house, collected some food and a few gallons of water and started right back on the journey again. This time I made it further, three more nights of walking and ducking and hiding, face in the sand, hearing my heart beat in my throat, running across those roads and waiting for the helicopters to move along, beaming their lights upon other stretches of desert. We made it to our pick up point, and hid in a truck, head to foot, head to foot, breathing in gasoline and fear and no idea what was going to happen to us. The truck would drive in spurts, light the headlights for a second and zoom along, stopping and starting in order to avoid detection, enough to make anyone lightheaded and nauseous.
I made it to the safe house and spoke to the person who organized my trip. He transferred the money to the handler and I was lead to the truck that would take me to the city that would become my home for a decade. As I said before, I don’t expect you to understand or to even want to understand. But this is my story and that of many, many people who walk the same streets as everyone else.