Honduran national “Dani” Danilo hesitated. He straddled two worlds at the same moment. Should he return to his sister and her two young children in Los Algodones, Mexico, or should he take the risk that started his nearly two-month trek and cross along with the Cuban family that was just ahead of him.
Standing on the edge of the American dream, sun setting behind him, he watched as others turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents. He was less than 200 feet from the United States, but the decision seemed far more impossible than the 1,600-plus miles he traveled from Honduras to get to the border.
Dani is one of the lucky ones. Not every young adult or child makes it this far. In fact, that are no real numbers as to how many children have lost their lives on this dangerous journey. However, there are estimates that at least one-third of all migrants have been the victims of severe brutality or sexual violence, according to a study published Aug. 21, 2019, in the open-access journal ”PLOS ONE.”
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It is a daunting statistic. For children traveling alone the estimates of abuse are believed to be much higher.
To put it into perspective, as of last Saturday, roughly 15,500 children are being housed in the United States and more than 117, 000 are expected to cross the border this fiscal year, according to reports.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay, if I turn myself in,” Dani told me as I spoke with him along the border that separates Yuma, Arizona, from the Mexican border town of Los Algodones. It is not an easy town for Dani, his sister or her young toddler and baby, he said.
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He said criminals are always lurking to take advantage of them.
“You can’t trust anyone,” he told me, as if trying to forget something haunting. He reached into his bag to show me a business card he handmade. He said he was a trained wood worker.
“Why did you come?” I asked him. While we chatted, he sent me some videos of the dangerous ride hanging from “La Bestia,” the cargo train known as the Beast, that he and others hung onto on his way to Los Algondones.
“What’s going to be your claim for asylum?”
He said, he was gay. “In Honduras it is impossible to be safe if you are gay,” he said. “We were hopeful because of President Biden, who has opened the border.”
I wasn’t sure if his asylum claim was true. The migrants quickly learn from the smugglers what they will need to say in order to apply for asylum, as I’ve reported on for years.
However, Dani didn’t trust anyone, anymore, he said.
From Los Algodones, the smugglers watched as Dani and I chatted near the dam.
I could see the small shadow figures standing on the sand dunes. Just below the tree line, migrants were huddled. One of the coyotes, the common reference for the smugglers, had his arms folded, while the other watching intently with binoculars in hand.
All the migrants who crossed that day, including a man from as far away as India, walked through the open gap in the border fence.
“They don’t care as long as they are paid,” Dani said. “They say that the Americans are letting everyone in. This is where they bring us to cross.”
Not too far from Dani and I, there was once a “rape tree.” Yuma County Sheriff Leon N. Wilmont, who said it was taken down, told me the smugglers would hang the underwear of young children and women that they had raped.
It was a trophy tree for the worst of humanity. It is a reminder of what these children – those who have survived – have endured on their journey to America.
It is also a reminder of decades of failed U.S. polices.
On the day I met Dani, the Cuban woman ahead of him, who appeared to be near the end of her pregnancy, was with her husband and child and looked to be in distress. The Border Patrol called for an ambulance, which arrived immediately to take her to a hospital.
All the migrants who crossed that day, including a man from as far away as India, walked through the open gap in the border fence. The gap was a reminder that the Biden administration is handling the border far differently than did the Trump administration.
The construction of the fence was halted by an executive order issued by Biden the day he came into office. And whether or not the administration wants to admit it, the drug cartels, along with the human traffickers, are using the more relaxed standards at the border to lure vulnerable migrants with false promises.
I still talk to Dani by phone. I’m tracking his journey for as long as I can. He is still in Mexico waiting to cross. He was too afraid to come into America just yet, he said.
In fact, a Border Patrol agent eventually spotted Dani and I chatting. Dani backed away. He told the agent that he’d find a way in when nobody was around.
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The Border Patrol agent just shrugged with frustration, saying, “Are you coming or going, kid? You can’t hang out here.”
“I’m going back for now,” he said, running back to Mexico. “I’ll find my way in, don’t worry, I always do.”
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