Mi­grat­ing be­fore and af­ter Trump poli­cies

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Christo­pher Sherman

SANTA ANA, EL SAL­VADOR >> María Teresa Car­ballo was wor­ried. She hadn’t heard from her daugh­ter-in-law since the young woman and her two young children left with a smug­gler for the U.S. border a week ear­lier.

The silence was un­ex­pected: Seven­teen other mem­bers of Car­ballo’s fam­ily had un­der­taken the same jour­ney be­tween last De­cem­ber and May, and all had made it safely af­ter pay­ing the smug­gler $3,000 per per­son.

This Oc­to­ber day was the first inkling that some­thing had changed, and the fam­ily’s per­fect streak had ended.

“For the ones I’d sent it was easy,” the 59-year-old Sal­vado­ran woman said of the rel­a­tives who mi­grated to the U.S. ear­lier in the year. All had turned them­selves over to U.S. au­thor­i­ties, re­quested asy­lum and been re­leased into the U.S. to await their cases.

But by Oc­to­ber things had changed dra­mat­i­cally.

It be­gan in May, when Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump threat­ened to im­pose crip­pling tar­iffs on all Mex­i­can goods if the gov­ern­ment did not stem the flow of mostly Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants cross­ing its ter­ri­tory. Mex­ico re­sponded in June by de­ploy­ing thou­sands of mem­bers of its newly cre­ated Na­tional Guard along the coun­try’s prin­ci­pal mi­gra­tion routes to make it more dif­fi­cult for mi­grants to ar­rive at the U.S. border.

The U.S. also ex­panded a pro­gram to make asy­lum seek­ers wait out their cases in Mex­ico rather than in the U.S.

The im­pact was swift: By Septem­ber, Mex­ico an­nounced that the num­ber of mi­grants reach­ing the U.S. border had plum­meted by more than half. At the same time, Mex­ico was de­tain­ing far more mi­grants: A 66% in­crease from Jan­uary through Septem­ber com­pared with the same pe­riod a year ear­lier.

It was into this dra­mat­i­cally al­tered pol­icy land­scape that Car­ballo’s daugh­ter-in-law found her­self en­snared, se­verely re­duc­ing her chances of suc­cess.

Hours af­ter cross­ing into south­ern Mex­ico on Oct. 12, she and her children, ages 3 and 9, were in the cus­tody of Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties af­ter be­ing taken off a bus at mid­night by im­mi­gra­tion agents who rec­og­nized the 24-year-old woman’s Mex­i­can birth cer­tifi­cate as a fake.

The young woman, who is not be­ing iden­ti­fied for safety rea­sons, spent 11 days in Mex­i­can detention with her children be­fore be­ing bused back to El Sal­vador. Still, she was un­de­terred. “We’re go­ing to try again,” she said upon ar­riv­ing home.

Like much of Cen­tral Amer­ica’s mas­sive mi­gra­tion of re­cent years, the driv­ing force be­hind the Car­ballo fam­ily’s ex­o­dus has been fear.

Their home­town of Santa Ana, a city of 260,000, is at the cen­ter of an im­por­tant cof­fee-grow­ing area not far from the border with Gu­atemala. Two gangs di­vide its ter­ri­tory.

Car­ballo lives in a neigh­bor­hood con­trolled by one gang, but ev­ery morn­ing at 5 a.m. she trav­els to the city’s cen­tral mar­ket, which is con­trolled by an­other gang, to buy yuca, plan­tains and pota­toes to make the fried chips she sells for a liv­ing. She goes alone be­cause the op­pos­ing gang would tar­get her youngest son just for liv­ing in the other gang’s ter­ri­tory.

She has rea­son to fear. On a stormy night in 2010, her 17-year-old grand­son, Antony, dis­ap­peared af­ter be­ing lured from home by a class­mate who said there was a girl who wanted to meet him. The class­mate was join­ing a gang and Antony, a res­i­dent of the ri­val gang’s ter­ri­tory, was his ticket in.

Antony’s body was dis­cov­ered two years later in a sep­tic pit. Un­til then, Car­ballo had been out­spo­ken in her search, bad­ger­ing po­lice when they en­cour­aged her to let it go. Af­ter the body was found, rel­a­tives urged her to bury him qui­etly, out of fear.

She re­fused.

“We didn’t hide. We were al­ways show­ing our face, we buried him, we held a wake when they gave us the body,” she said. The man re­spon­si­ble for his mur­der “knows why he’s locked up and when he gets out he could send some­one.”

Af­ter that, the fam­ily’s ex­o­dus be­gan.

The first to go was the fa­ther of the two grand­chil­dren caught with their mother in Oc­to­ber, who had nar­rowly es­caped mul­ti­ple kid­nap­ping at­tempts work­ing as a gas de­liv­ery­man. An­other son and Antony’s two sis­ters and their fam­i­lies soon fol­lowed.

The son, who left with his wife and two young children in Jan­uary, ran into a lit­tle difficulty when fed­eral po­lice tried to ex­tort them as they passed through the south­ern Mex­ico state of Tabasco. But they made it to Ci­u­dad Juarez on the U.S. border with­out fur­ther trou­ble.

Within 1½ days of turn­ing them­selves in to U.S. Border Pa­trol agents they were put on a bus to Mi­ami with an­kle mon­i­tors and a court date and re­leased. He’s found work and is sav­ing to hire a lawyer be­fore his next court date.

Car­ballo’s daugh­ter-in­law and her children faced a far dif­fer­ent fate when they set out 10 months later.

On Nov. 3, the young woman made good on her pledge to try again, and at first it seemed that luck was with them.

They trav­eled from Gu­atemala to Ci­u­dad Juarez across the border from El Paso, Texas, in 2½ days. The only hic­cup was when a Mex­i­can of­fi­cer took her out of a trans­port van to look at her pa­pers. She showed him a fake Mex­i­can birth cer­tifi­cate — dif­fer­ent from the last one — and this time it worked.

Af­ter a night in Juarez they were dropped along a high­way run­ning par­al­lel to the U.S. border. The smug­gler told them to run across the con­crete drain that de­fines the border there and wait for U.S. Border Pa­trol to ar­rive. As they walked along the border fence that evening U.S. agents ap­peared.

The smug­gler let Car­ballo know that her daugh­ter-in­law had turned her­self over to U.S. au­thor­i­ties, but then came ag­o­niz­ing days with­out news. All she could do was pray they were re­leased into the U.S. like the rest of the fam­ily.

But in­side an El Paso Border Pa­trol sta­tion, things were not go­ing well for her daugh­ter-in-law.

She spent 12 days with her children locked in a cold hold­ing cell. On the fifth or sixth day she was in­ter­viewed by phone for sev­eral hours to judge the threat she faced in El Sal­vador — the first hur­dle in seek­ing asy­lum. She said she ex­plained fear for the safety of her children had driven her out of El Sal­vador. She did not men­tion try­ing to reunite with her hus­band, for fear of putting him at risk.

Sev­eral days later she got the an­swer: “They told me it didn’t ap­ply, that asy­lum didn’t ap­ply.”

She re­quested a lawyer and spent sev­eral days try­ing to find one. The day she was fi­nally able to reach her mother, who had mi­grated to New York 20 years ear­lier, to ask for help she and her children were moved to a ho­tel and told they were be­ing de­ported.

Back in Santa Ana, ques­tions burned about why things had turned out so dif­fer­ently for her.

She won­dered if she would have had bet­ter luck at an­other border cross­ing. She re­called be­ing told by one Border Pa­trol agent that some­thing had changed over the sum­mer and they were no longer al­low­ing Sal­vado­rans into the coun­try.

ED­UARDO VERDUGO — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mar’a Teresa Car­ballo, cuts cab­bage in­side of her house in Santa Ana, El Sal­vador.

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