Centro de detención en McAllen, Texas. Foto: U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Tomada de Columbia Political Review.

Daniela’s story: arrival in the United States (II)

This is Daniela’s migration storytold by herself, once she arrived on American soil:

When we arrived they sat us outside, which is where they receive people and where the computers are; there is also a bag storage where they put all your belongings and they give you a ticket. There were a hundred thousand people before us, which means that they arrived at dawn or around six in the morning.

There a boy gave us a shift and they called us by name, they took a picture of us, and we had to sign and put our fingerprint on a document. There was a girl, one of those security police of Mexican origin who treated us extremely badly, she did treat us badly; from there to there very few were the ones who mistreated us, but that girl treated us very badly. It was extremely cold, but extremely cold, and she ordered us to take off our coats, even the children who had come on the “traverse.” She was not interested that they were children: she ordered them to take off their coats.

I entered there on the sixth of March and left on the ninth at dawn. There were many women in the shelter and I said to myself, “cons, I can’t believe they have all of us here”, but it was the same, and all the time with the light on. On the floor, there were about four little mattresses, those judo mattresses, those sports ones, very hard. And they gave us some packages with some silver “nylon” that you open and use to cover yourself. There was also a toilet with a small wall where you have to do your “needs” like that, in front of everyone, because there is no door, there is nothing, we put the basket in front to have a bit of privacy. And that was just to relieve yourself: there was nowhere to bathe or brush your teeth, they only gave you some wet wipes. To clean my mouth, what I did was rinse my mouth with plenty of water, because it felt bitter, “squeeze”, like someone who has chewed mamoncillos.

They gave us to eat a chicken sandwich, some energy tablets, an apple, and some little hot juices that no one could drink. At noon what they gave was a cold, frozen taco, which they took out of the refrigerator. Some cold ham tacos that I think were the best despite how cold they were; and again the apple, the energy tablet and the little bowl of apple juice. And at night they gave us a spicy hamburger again, so much so that no one would eat it, and the same things that I told you before.

There we stuck to a glass to see outside because everything was very desperate, the hours did not pass. And when we knocked for someone to come because the toilet paper ran out or something like that, we asked the time. In general, they hardly attended to us. There were girls who played and said “my head hurts”, “I feel bad”. I even saw an Argentine girl, her name was Martina, just nineteen years old, she hadn’t eaten for days, she didn’t want to eat, and everyone started playing, because the girl was sick and we started to get scared. Then an officer, surnamed Martínez, arrived and told us: “don’t bother”, and he threw the door at us in such a way that he almost caught the finger of one of the girls with those metal doors, and he would have ripped it off and nothing … We were trying to explain to him that the Argentine girl was not well, but he told us not to talk to her, that she had nothing. He didn’t open it for us until, luckily, it was lunchtime and, when he opened it, the girl was no longer passed out, but she was still lying on the floor. So he told us to get out, not to help her, that she had nothing, but when we came back from lunch the girl was not there. Later in the afternoon we saw her again, and she told us that they left her there for a while and gave her a pill, nothing more.

Nothing happened over the weekend, but on Monday afternoon they asked me about the piece of paper they had given me so that I could put the name of my contact in the United States, his address and the relationship we had; and on Tuesday morning a blonde officer took me out of the shelter and asked me if I was afraid to go back to Cuba, I said yes, and asked me to sign some documents on a small screen with an electronic pen, although I never saw what I was signing. And nothing, I picked up and signed, imagine the uncertainty of not knowing what I was signing; I didn’t know English. Later, when they released me, I found out that with that form we were signing a deportation, a process that seems to be done to everyone.

The next day the colleagues from ICE (US Immigration and Control Enforcement) arrived, who make you sign various papers, such as the one that says that you are going to leave under the condition of I-220A 1, which was the way I got out. They also give you a phone and ask you to take several photos: from the front, from each side, above, below and in the center. Finally, they ask you to take a “selfie” style profile photo, which is the last one sent and is the one you have to take on the day of the week that you have to report by phone, in my case, on Thursdays at ten in the morning. From the day ICE gave me the phone, all notifications and controls have been through them, including the dates to see the Immigration Judge.

And the same day they did the process they released me. First they enter you again, but with the phone in its little box. When they do that, you already know you’re leaving, because that same day they took us in one of those little trucks but sitting more comfortably to a place that was like a motel, a hotel, right there in California, in San Diego, I think. There we were tested COVID-19 and, if you test negative, they give you the vaccine (Pfizer) and they give you the card for the second dose in the place where you are going to reside. They ask you a series of questions, they write down several things, they put you up in all-inclusive rooms, where even food is free and, if you want, they give you clothes, shoes, whatever you need to travel in case you don’t have clothes. Then they tell you that you have to notify your family so they can get your plane ticket, that you have around three to four free days for your family member to get the ticket and they will take you, free of charge, to the San Diego airport or another more than there, that I don’t remember, that they were the two closest to that place.

And that’s my whole story. My relative, my husband’s brother, got my ticket the day I arrived at the hotel, they tested me for COVID-19, they gave me the Pfizer, and the next morning I left, because my ticket was Eleven in the morning. I had to make a stopover in Las Vegas, in Dallas, and from Dallas I traveled to the Miami airport, and to this day I am here.

I started working in a jewelry store, I work from nine to five in the afternoon, from Monday to Saturday. And although they did all this process that I told you about entering the United States, you have to make an appointment with a lawyer to arrange your residency. And since that costs money, that’s why I’m working now to be able to pay for it, you see? Because all that is paid for, regardless of the help from the government, which gives you things to live on, but you have to get money for a lawyer to start processing the asylum thing for you. I’m on that now.

Although I still can’t do it now, once I have the papers I can go to places to study, so they can see that, although you have university studies, you are interested in improving yourself. Childcare is very well paid here, it’s super cool and it’s something nice, because they are children who have a problem, and it’s nice to see that you help a child develop. Then, who knows, I’d like to explore being a paralegal.

Now I live with my husband’s family, which is like my family, and I thank God that I found that jewelry store: the owner put her trust in me, they leave me alone in the store, I don’t have to get up early, and they want to get me up salary.

And looking at the experience I lived from a distance, I can tell you that the “contact” I sought to make the trip “painted everything rosy” for you, but very far from reality: the buses in which we moved were public, they never said we had to pay at the checkpoints; in short, they never say how everything is. Among the “guides” there were “nicas”, Venezuelans, Mexicans… There was security on the “crossing” but, at the same time, everything was precarious and uncertain: lodgings in very poor condition; crowded transport, with almost loose railings and at impossible speeds through those hills of the devil; and with people who never tell you where you’re going or how it’s going to be.

The migrants I traveled with were not the same, nor were the “guides”, who change depending on the connections between countries. But with the Cubans through the countries I visited, I did establish very good relations. We helped each other a lot, we bought little things to eat, toilet, you know, and we shared them… It was with them that I had the most empathy. We still call each other, we communicate in the United States, because climbing mountains and crossing an entire desert makes people sister. And despite everything I’ve been through, the difficult moments and the agony, I can only tell you one thing: I’m not even for Cuba!

***

Note:

1 Form I-220A is permission to be free in the United States, but under immigration supervision. Information available here.

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