Migrant abuse: $3,000 for their freedom
By Verónica Martínez/La Verdad
Last of a four-part series
CIUDAD JUAREZ – Nicole hung a poster of her name in pink letters on the wall between two portraits her mother, Ruth, had drawn to decorate the room that had been her home in a shelter in Ciudad Juárez. The two Honduran migrant women waited almost two years to cross into the United States under the Migrant Protection Protocols.
“We got here first and we’re still here,” Nicole, 19, said toward the end of May. A few days later, mid-June, she was able to cross the border to pursue her asylum claim.
Last February, her 11-year-old brother and her father came to Ciudad Juárez to join their MPP case. The family fled Honduras in shifts, and came to this community, which borders El Paso, Texas.
Nicole came first with her mom. What they experienced coming through Mexico and while they were in Ciudad Juárez hurt Nicole deeply, Ruth attested. Nicole uses medication to treat her anxiety and depression.
Nicole and her mother fled Quimistán, a municipality in the department of Santa Bárbara, where Ruth taught chemistry and biology.
A 17-year-old student threatened Ruth, demanding she give him a good grade. Ruth initially did not believe the threats and ignored them. The 47-year-old Honduran woman took them seriously when others told her of the rumors.
“He said he would get back at me with what I love the most, which is my daughter,” Ruth said. She said that making this kind of statement on the streets in Honduras is very different from doing it in a classroom, “where no one else is witness to the student’s connection to gangs.”
Part two: The police sold us to the mafia
Part three: A hellish 37 days among a group of traffickers
That was when Ruth decided to leave Honduras in mid-July 2019. Her husband and her son, both named Nicolás, went to live near the husband’s mother in Guatemala. As a truck driver, Nicolás was able to work in Guatemala and not return to Honduras.
Nicole left her life in Quimistán, where she says she was happy with her family. On weekends they would take long drives; she belonged to a dance group at school and only had a year to finish high school, where she was already taking advanced coding.
The mother and daughter took different means of transportation throughout Mexico. The worst part was going from Villa Hermosa to Puebla, Ruth said. With almost 100 other migrants, Ruth and Nicole were stuffed into a trailer for more than 12 hours. On top of them, more migrants sat on thin wooden benches which creaked, threatening to break at each turn.
The pair crossed into the United States through Ojinaga, Chihuahua, intending to ask for asylum. After spending four days in a detention center in San Antonio, they were transferred to El Paso and sent to Ciudad Juárez in early August 2019, in the early weeks of Migrant Protection Protocols (better known as “Remain in Mexico.”)
In Ciudad Juárez, they met with more difficulties and discrimination because of their status as migrants, Ruth said.
In January 2020, coming out of a supermarket in the Anapra area, Ruth and Nicole were approached by a man who assured them he was an Uber driver. They asked to be driven to the shelter where they lived for the first four months in Ciudad Juárez, but that never happened.
They were turned over to a group of kidnappers. They were held by criminals who contacted their relatives in Florida, demanding a $3,000 ransom. Ruth’s brother, who has lived in Miami for 18 years, made three payments of $950 to three different bank accounts. After covering the ransom, the women were released.
“We didn’t know what to do,” Ruth said, crying. “I really believe that is why my world came crashing down.”
With Nicolás’ arrival in Ciudad Juárez, Ruth felt safer going grocery shopping. Nicole would only go to the dentist, to her psychiatrist appointments and to a shop just steps from the shelter they moved to after being kidnapped.
Ruth and Nicolás never considered staying in Mexico. For Ruth, a 47-year-old mother, the main hurdle she faced was discrimination and xenophobia against migrants which she said they found in Ciudad Juárez. For Nicole, it’s the inhumane treatment they received while traveling through Mexico.
The last week in May, the family got news about their asylum process at the shelter.
“I have good news for you,” Ruth recalled the director’s words at the shelter where they stayed the last few months in Ciudad Juárez. They were told their case was considered to be mixed, since her husband and son were added to the asylum petition.
“It’s not that I think everything will be better on the other side, but what I want to feel is freedom,” Ruth said a few days before crossing the border. “I want to be able to go around freely, as I did in my country after that experience that separated us.”