SAMALAYUCA, Mexico (Border Report) – Eric Daniel, a native of Venezuela, recalls what it was like to ride on top of trains from southern Mexico to a town just 30 miles shy of the U.S. border.
“It is very dangerous. It’s cold, more than anything. There were people who died; they went to sleep and fell off the train,” he said. “I saw a father of a 4-year-old girl. He grabbed her by one arm, but the train cut off her other arm. There were too many tragedies.”
Eric Daniel is among the thousands of migrants who have come to the border in the past few weeks as stowaways atop Mexican trains. Juarez news media have been keeping tabs on the arrivals: 100, 200 up to 500 per day. Their goal is to seek asylum in the U.S. once Title 42 expulsions end on the night of May 11.
The migrants used to get off in Samalayuca to avoid scrutiny from Mexican immigration agents in Juarez. Eric Daniel recalls the day he got off a boxcar ferrying coal, running away from Mexican National Guardsmen through the desert, and being taken in by the residents of Samalayuca.
The trains don’t get the same scrutiny from Mexican authorities since a fire at a National Migration Institute detention center killed 40 migrants. Eight public servants and private guards now face criminal and administrative charges in connection to the fire.
But Eric Daniel and other Venezuelan migrants chose to stay in Samalayuca knowing they will face expedited removal if they cross into the U.S. without an appointment for asylum. “I will wait even if it takes six months. I will not cross the border just like that because I know they will send me back,” he said.
‘May 11 is just another day for us’
La Casa de la Cultura is the town’s event center. It hasn’t been used much since the COVID-19 pandemic. When droves of migrants started passing through the town and some were asking to stay, the mayor and the police chief decided to turn it into a shelter.
“The people here have been very good to us. They see you’re hungry and they won’t let you starve. They see you’re cold, they will give you a jacket,” Eric Daniel said.
The migrants repay the kindness by volunteering to do chores or hiring out their labor whenever work becomes available.
Yelixa Carrullo and her daughter Yeleanys Urribarri Carrullo also plan to stay in Samalayuca until they get an appointment at a U.S. port of entry.
“We will wait. There is no other way. If we cross illegally, we are making a mistake. They (ban) you for five years,” said Yeleanis, a former law student from Maracaibo, Venezuela. “The 11th of May is a day like any other.”
The women know the wait could take months. “It is very difficult to get an appointment. It is a matter of luck. You just keep trying,” Yeleanis said.
Mother and daughter acknowledged poor paying jobs drove them out of Venezuela. But Yeleanis said that’s due to political favoritism that permeates Venezuelan society. Those who support the Nicolas Maduro regime prosper, and those who don’t must pay the price.
“They go around looking for (the opposition). They were constantly after the students. They came and took our money, our cell phones. Even the teachers were robbed,” Yeleanis said.
Her mom Yelixa, whose traveling companions called her “La Abuela” (Grandma) said she would make more money doing cleaning jobs on the side than as a $16-a-month schoolteacher. Retirement was out of the question after hyperinflation reduced retirement checks to the equivalent of $7 a month.
The women have been on the road for months. The hardest part of their journey was crossing the Darien Gap jungle in Panama. Part of their journey was documented by a CNN news crew. The second hardest portion of the trip was experiencing police corruption in Central America.
“In Guatemala, one policeman showed us a cell phone with a (GIF) of a hand motioning for money,” Yelixa said. “When we said we had none they put my daughter in a room with several policemen. They searched her, they touched her.”
The mom said she saw police and civilians routinely stop migrants on the road, forcing them to show their wallets and grabbing a handful of bills each time.
“It has been very hard, but here we are, closer than ever,” to the United States, she said.
A family from Samalayuca has offered the women room in their home. The family asked for nothing in return, but the women volunteer chores and help out at town events.
Yelixa is aware of the large Venezuelan community that has gathered in Juarez in anticipation of the end of Title 42. The prospect of sleeping on the streets or trading the peace and quiet of Samalayuca for the crime in Juarez does not appeal to them.
Yeleanis said she plans to resume her college education in the United States if she gets asylum.
“I want to study languages. I would like to work for a nonprofit that gives free classes for people who cannot afford college. Those are my goals: To study and work,” the former law student said.
The women often visit the town park, which is next to the railroad tracks. Occasionally, they wave at the migrants riding the passing trains headed to Juarez.