‘We’re just desperate here’: Central Texans stranded in foreign countries due to COVID-19 pandemic, slowly coming home


AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) —The chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee says there are tens of thousands of Americans stranded abroad.

He and others are urging the President to deploy more resources to get them back home.

“We’re just desperate here,” says Claudia Deleon who’s from Kyle. She told KXAN Monday she has been able to head home, but not before a number of difficulties.

Claudia Deleon landed in Guatemala on March 11th. Less than a week later, the airports shutdown in response to COVID19. (Courtesy: Claudia Deleon)

The 53-year-old and her husband were in Guatemala to visit their mothers, but their flight back home to Austin was canceled — Guatemala’s airports are shutdown through the end of the month.

“All I want to do is I want to be home. I want to be in U.S. soil. Once I’m there, I don’t care if I have to walk from Dallas to Austin,” Deleon, who works at Ascension Seton Hays, told KXAN Sunday.

For about a week, she has been trying to get help from the U.S. Embassy to find a way home to her three children and five grandchildren.

“They worry. They think grandma and grandpa are never coming home,” Deleon says.

Gabriela Garcia, 23, and Christina Rodriguez, 21, say they’ve also felt neglected by the U.S. Government.

“There’s a lot of us here and we really do feel abandoned by the government and haven’t seen much done and we’ve called the embassy almost daily and have never gotten an answer to this day,” says Rodriguez, a senior at Texas State University.

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said they’ve brought more than 3,000 folks back home and that chartered flights are set to bring back even more. However, Americans don’t know how much their embassy flights will cost — and the government has had some sign a note agreeing to pay the as-yet-unknown amount.

“The State Department is working around the clock to assist Americans who may find themselves overseas,” Pence said.

Gabriela Garcia (right) and Christina Rodriguez (center) were supposed to fly home on March 19th but Peruvian airports have also shut down through the end of the month. (Courtesy: Gabriela Garcia)

But these Central Texans say they haven’t gotten any notice of when that might be.

“I’m not going to get paid for the time being here and I still have rent, all my bills, all the money that it’s going to take to get us out of here, all the money that it’s going to take to sustain us living here,” says Garcia, who works at a women’s healthcare clinic in Austin.

For now, the spring breakers are stranded in South America and they and DeLeon just want to be heard.

“That’s my plea, please spread the word, we are here,” DeLeon says.

Finding alternate routes

“There’s a lot of us that are contemplating our way out of here through Mexico. But then we are scared that once we go into Mexican borders, what if the Mexican government decides to close their airports?” Deleon says.

It’s something Garcia and Rodriguez have also thought about.

They say there are some charter flights for about $1,000 per ticket, double or triple what the three women paid for their roundtrip flights.

Those flights would also only get the Americans to the United States, not to their respective home states.

Garcia and Rodriguez say they’ve decided to wait it out, hoping to catch a U.S. Embassy flight.

Deleon says she and her husband plan to decide Monday if they want to risk crossing the Guatemala / Mexico border.

The vice president urges all Americans abroad to register their information with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

Creating community

All three women say they have joined text message and social media groups with other Americans stranded in their respective countries.

“I guess it’s because we all just have the common goal of getting home and also we all have that same feeling that we have been totally abandoned by our government,” Garcia says.

Deleon says she still considers herself lucky; she is staying with her mother, while others have to dip into funds for their extended stay.

“I am okay. I am with family. We are with family. But they are not,” Deleon says.

She says she reached out to KXAN News to not only share her story, but the dozens of others stuck in Guatemala, as well.

“I have faith in you guys and you’re not only helping me, you’re helping other people here,” Deleon says.

Garcia and Rodriguez are also trying to raise awareness on social media, calling out elected officials to speak out in their defense and using hashtags like #StuckInPeru.

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