Salvadoran Man on the Border Explains Why He and His Family Seek Asylum in the U.S.

Interview with Nelson, a Salvadoran migrant waiting for his chance to apply for U.S. asylum, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Thousands of people from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and southern Mexico keep heading to the southern U.S. border with their children, hoping to gain asylum in the U.S. Most are fleeing from violence, poverty and climate change-exacerbated drought. There are specific requirements that must be met to qualify for asylum in the U.S. These standards had included fleeing from gang violence or domestic violence, but the Trump administration has been steadily restricting the reasons a person can claim asylum and says it will no longer accept such claims to be granted asylum status.
An immigration attorney explained that while 90 percent or more of migrants pass their credible fear hearing at the border, very few actually win asylum and will be deported back to their home countries. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus recently spent nine days on both sides of the border in Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico interviewing both migrants hoping to get into the U.S. as well as those who had passed a credible fear hearing and were on their way to reside with sponsors.
In a tiny room in Mexico, very near the Nogales border crossing, Tuhus interviewed a Salvadoran man named Nelson. Because he had previously worked in the U.S. and Canada, he spoke English, but said he returned to his country in 2011, hoping things would be better. He found little had changed in El Salvador so he fled with his wife and daughter. Here, he talks about the threats he and his family received from drug cartels in Salvador that drove him to seek asylum in the U.S.

NELSON: All around the border there are so many people. I heard in Tijuana there are more than 12,000 people. So as soon as we heard that if you came here to the border and ask for refugee status, you can get help. So that’s how we do it. We came here and asked for help. I mean, we got proof of what is happening right now with my family, right? So I know there are so many people that came and it’s just a lie, or I don’t know. But with my family, we really need that.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I still want to understand, did you come from one of the refugios, like La Roca, or one of the other ones, and now you’re here because you’re closer to getting across the border?

NELSON: We started a process here. Everybody who came here (to the little room) received a number. For example, I’m number 1,147. There are so many numbers right now. ICE asks for, let’s get an example, 10 people, so we are here, so that’s the people who are about to cross.

BETWEEN THE LINES: When did you get here, to this room?

NELSON: Yesterday afternoon.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And do you think you’ll be leaving in another day or so?

NELSON: Probably another day, maybe by tomorrow.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And then you’re going to go to the border, you’re going to get into the immigration process in the U.S. You have to convince U.S. officials that you have a credible fear…

NELSON: That’s the first thing, credible fear.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How do you do that? Do you have any documentation or are you just going to tell your story like you just told us and hope they believe you?

NELSON: Yes, that’s what I heard. And the first time you have to speak with the truth, right, and say everything that is happening. But afterward when you have the court [hearing], then you can show all the proof that you have. That’s what I heard. But even if they ask for something, yes, I have some papers with me that show why I’m running out from my country.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Do the cartels, when they do the extortion, do they give you any written warnings or threats, or they just come and talk to you? You don’t have anything showing the threats?

NELSON: Yes, I do. Yes, I do, like the text message from What’s App and stuff like that. Also, they came to my business – they closed my business. I got proof of where I was located, and also in voices and stuff like that. So many things that can prove that.

That’s another thing, that we don’t like to be here. We don’t want to work over here [in Mexico] because there are two cartels over here that control everything. For example, if I go out after 6 p.m., 7 p.m., I’m at risk that they can take me and start asking me for money from USA, if I have family over there.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Will you describe this room for me, and tell me who’s here?

NELSON: Okay, it’s like a small room. We are 17 people here. The room is probably about, like, 5, 4,6 [feet} with a small bathroom. We all use the bathroom. We don’t have any toilet paper. Each of us has to see how we can deal with that, right? For mattress we have, how do you call it?

BETWEEN THE LINES: Very thin mattresses, like an inch.

NELSON: And we sleep all here.

BETWEEN THE LINES:  And there’s so many kids, little kids. They seem like they’re doing okay, but…

NELSON: Most of them are sick right now. They have chicken pox. Mine doesn’t have it, right, but I’m scared that she can grab it. I don’t want that.

BETWEEN THE LINES:  Tell me what your hopes are for getting out of here and going to the U.S.

NELSON: My hopes?


NELSON: My hopes is first to be safe. That’s the main thing that I want right now. My child is just 3-1/2 and I want the best future for her. I know USA, I know Canada, I know can I get work and do something good for my family, good for the country too. I don’t want to be a pain for nobody.


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