|Delmy in happier days|
David's wife Delmy and her son Christian came to visit Thursday morning about a month after David left.
I slept late on Thursday and when I came downstairs, El Jefe was on the front porch talking with Delmy. I was afraid that it wasn't a good sign. As I came out, El Jefe said that David had been captured after he crossed the border. Oh, no! I hugged Delmy not knowing what else to do.
I sat down to talk with her and El Jefe went back to work on his latest project. How are you? Fine. How are the kids? Fine. Are the children missing their dad? Yes. How is school? Fine. Are the teachers striking much? No. Etc. Etc. Hmmm. Why is it that El Jefe can chat with anyone for three hours and I can't get two words out of someone?
I wanted to talk to her alone as I thought maybe she didn't want to talk in front of Christian but the opportunity didn't arise. Has David called? "No, I called him and he was okay but now he doesn't answer his phone! I don't know where he is!" Then came a tumble of words, the gist of which was that David's brother in the US heard from a coyote that David had been detained after he crossed the US-Mexico border.
Coyote is the name for someone or group of someones who for a very high fee, help illegal immigrants to get across the border. Sometimes the coyotes escort them all the way from Honduras to the US in groups. They say that in the old days, the journey from Honduras would average 13-15 days, but now due to organized human traffickers, it can take 3 weeks or more. David left a month ago.
I've often heard the coyote fee can be as high as US $5,000. That always made me wonder: If someone had $5,000 saved up, why would they even need to go to the US? Most of the people who I know who have gone to the US would never have access to that amount of money. It's more than a year's pay for most Hondurans and more than two years' pay for many. The answer is that usually relatives in the US pay the fee, and the immigrant works to pay them back after he or she gets to the US. Actually, I started hearing the $5,000 figure many years ago so it could be much higher now.
Coyotes sometimes do what they say for the price they quoted. Other times they hold the immigrant hostage until they are paid or ask for more money in the end. Sometimes another coyote kidnaps the immigrant and forces the family to pay him (or her) as well. I'm sure that people in the US have read stories or seen television shows about the terrible things that have happened to many immigrants. A couple of years ago, a female Honduran coyote was arrested in the US. She had several Hondurans held hostage in a house in the US, waiting for her payments. So abuse of immigrants is not limited to Mexican coyotes.
David had told us that he wasn't using a coyote and was going by himself. He said that going with a group of people wearing backpacks makes you more of a target in Mexico. He might have decided that he couldn't get across the border without help.
Kidnappings in Mexico
Back to Delmy: She seemed to be taking the whole thing stoically. That didn't surprise me because it's very common among Hondurans to just accept things, no matter how bad the situation. I asked her if she had read the news earlier this week about the 104 migrants, mostly Honduran, who had been rescued by the police in Mexico on March 7. She hadn't, so I went to find the article for her. As she started reading it, tears started falling down her cheeks. I felt terrible for bringing it up. I hugged her and assured her that those people were rescued so if David was with them, he would be home soon.
The original article stated that the police in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico (at the tip of the Texas border) had received reports about armed men violently unloading dozens of men and women into a house. Authorities found 104 migrants being sequestered in the house. They had been there for four days and the original reports stated that they had been mistreated and some were in bad health.
One Honduran told reporters that when riding the train, criminal groups wait near at least three different train stops through Mexico and demand $100 from each of the immigrants. He said that one boy who didn't want to pay was killed with a machete. If they don't have $100, they demand $300 from their US relatives. This sounds like a huge exaggeration but he claimed that 15,000 immigrants were being held captive in Coatzacoalcos in the state of Vera Cruz, Mexico, while the criminals wait for their payments. He said that some train guards also demand 200 or 300 pesos of the immigrants.
La Prensa had an article on these kidnappings on March 3. In that article, it was reported that when the migrants don't have the $100 to pay, their relatives in their original country or in the US are extorted for as much as $1,000 to $5,000 to secure the migrant's release. The article reported that one Honduran was shot and later decapitated when he tried to escape in October. These types of stories are reported every few months in the Honduras news, including one a few years ago in which 72 bodies, many of them Honduran, were discovered in the north of Mexico, presumed to have been murdered by human traffickers.
As an aside, this money from the US relatives must come through money transfer companies such as Western Union, so it seems that the Mexican authorities could track the criminals down and prosecute if they wanted to. 'Hunting' migrants appears to be a state sanctioned sport in Mexico.
The Mexican government later denied the original claims and announced that the 104 rescued migrants (97 Hondurans) were voluntarily staying at the house in Nuevo Laredo waiting for the coyotes to receive their payments and that they weren't mistreated. Mexico was deporting them and they should arrive to Honduras on a bus last Friday.
One of the photos in the original article showed someone who looked like David. Delmy was convinced that it was him and cried some more because it was a photo of migrants lying by the railroad tracks and you couldn't tell if he was dead or alive. The person was dressed the same as David was when he left, but a later article listed all the names of the Hondurans. I had already checked for David's name and it wasn't there. I pointed out that if it was him, he would be home soon which cheered her up a little. I wasn't convinced though, since that didn't jive with the news that he had been detained in the US.
I told her that if he was detained by the US authorities, he would be safe and that they would send him back home. I didn't mention that it could take several months. More silent tears started falling at the mention of prison. I assured her that US prisons were not like the hell holes of Honduran prisons. I scrambled to think of anything I could to reassure her. I said that every prisoner has their own bed and that they feed them good food three times a day. US prisons have bathrooms and showers. "It's like a hotel!", I said encouragingly. She wasn't totally convinced, but luckily we have a worker right now who was deported last year. "Tell her what it's like, Ever!", I suggested. "Yeah, it is like a hotel. They have weights and games and cable TV. Really. There is a buffet at meals. Everything is clean. It's not like Honduras. In fact, one guy didn't want to leave. He said that his life was better in prison than it ever was in Honduras." We all laughed about that and she finally seemed convinced.
Desperate straits at home
I invited Delmy and Christian to have some baleadas. I noticed that although she usually eats like a bird, she ate both hefty baleadas. After eating, Christian wandered off to talk to El Jefe, and I shut the door. "So how are you really? Financially?" Delmy burst into tears. "David's brother is sending me some money but he can't do it until Friday and I won't be able to get it until Saturday. I have nothing to feed the children!" For the first time, she started sobbing. I said "Maybe this will help." and gave her L.1,000 (US $50). She started to promise to pay me back on Saturday, but I said, "No. This is a gift. I don't want you to pay me back." She was so grateful and I was just glad that I was in a position to help.
Since Delmy was so vague about what she had heard, El Jefe called David's brother in the US. His brother repeated that he had received a call from the coyote that David had crossed the border but was detained in "Macali", possibly a week before. That was all he knew. I deduced that he might have meant McAllen, in the south of Texas. Then I asked for some help on our Honduras Living group about how to find out if he was in custody and found that ICE has an online accessible registry!
Unfortunately, checking his name gave no results. I tried every combination of his two last names including with and without hyphens. Delmy and Christian watched every keystroke and groaned each time it came back to say "Your search resulted in zero results". I don't know how long a delay there might be in updating the data so I've been checking every day but it has been, we think, at least 10 days since he was said to be detained. It could be that the coyote was lying.
So here we are. We have no idea where David is or whether or not he is all right. Just imagine what Delmy is going through.
March 16: Saying goodbye to another friend
March 19: More sequestered Hondurans in the US
March 25: No news is not good news