The Asylum Cycle Continues
Joshua hugs his sister, Scarlett, after spending the morning waiting to see if their number will be called to obtain asylum in the United States. They have come almost every week for the past three months, but their number has yet to be called. As President Trump seeks to fulfill his campaign promise to build a wall, thousands of immigrants like Joshua and Scarlett await their fate as they seek their own dream of starting a new life in the United States. This multimedia project portrays the lives – and the uncertainty – of those living along the border who seek asylum, and those documented and undocumented in the United States who seek citizenship, during a time when the caravan and border wall funding become two of the biggest news topics within the past year.
A Journey from Central America to the United States
Iris Solvia, 31, remembers the cold night in Tijuana when she jumped the fence with her son, Johnathan Zavala, 14, with other caravan members. She recalls the long walk to a secluded area far away from the shelter she called home. A walk that she hasn’t done since her pilgrimage from Honduras to Tijuana.
A ‘Coyote’ guided Solvia, who lead the caravan to America like Moses leading his people to the promise land. A ‘Coyote’ is a paid servant, who helps immigrants cross the southern border from tunnels and fences in Mexico to the United States. Solvia believes this to be a dangerous situation because this particular ‘Coyote’ helped people who also needed to smuggle drugs.
says she was not prepared to leave the shelter or to jump the fence, but her
son was adamant on leaving.
“I wasn’t sure if I would cross, or where to cross,” Solvia said. “I was so nervous when it was my turn. I remember wearing acrylic nails and one of my nails got caught on the wall, because the wall had spikes. My pants got caught and my nail did too. My body was trembling with the thought of the height I had to jump.”
“I heard a lot of people would cross through the beaches in Tijuana but I went twice, and the tide had risen,” Solvia said. The second time I went, they told us we shouldn’t try to cross through the beach, because 15 or nine people drowned. I don’t remember too well. It was horrible because they said it was four Hondurans.”
Solvia says she climbed the border fence in agony while under pressure, after her son climbed without second guessing.
“There was such a rush of adrenaline, and I can’t even recall,” Zavala said. Zavala vividly remembers the feeling of reaching American soil for the first time.
Solvia now lives with Zavala in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Still unsure what their future holds, but determined to stay in the United States. She is in the process with an attorney to have her asylum claim met, but there is a chance that she may be deported back.
Life in Honduras was rough according to both of them. Zavala recalls his hometown being high in crime and gang activity.
“Life isn’t easy in any country, but at least we are away from gangs, and away from the danger in Honduras. That’s what I thought at least. I live in a neighborhood in Honduras that was dangerous,” Zavala said.
The decision to come to the United States happened on a whim, after Solvia became upset with her job, which included long hour shifts with low pay.
“The same day that I got my paycheck, I didn’t know what to do,” said Solvia. “I was embarrassed. I had already told people that I had bills to pay. I needed to pay rent, food, at work and at home. I needed to set aside money for my mom and I didn’t have the money.”
Solvia worked a home appliance job in Honduras, which resulted in a payday where she did not receive the commission money for her work check. This became an issue during a time Solvia had overdue bills and debt. This was the final straw before she decided to join the caravan.
“We left after the caravan,” Solvia said. The caravan left on October 3, if I am not wrong, and we left on the 19th. We reached the caravan on the border of Guatemala and Mexico the same day that the caravan crossed under the bridge. Days earlier the caravan was there, but there were a lot of dead people. There was a lot of danger and they didn’t want people to cross the border to Mexico. Thank God I didn’t have to pass all of that. There were kids that died by asphyxiation from gas bombs,” Solvia said.
The journey from the beginning would be dangerous for Solvia and Zavala. A journey were a young mother and teenage boy would travel months through walking and bus catching until reaching the southern border.
“My mom didn’t tell me where we were going, and I thought we were going to our other apartment and then we were at the border of Guatemala and Honduras,” Zavala said.
Solvia made a personal decision to only take her oldest son on her journey to the border, and left her other three daughters and son back in Honduras. The original plan was to bring Zavala’s father on the journey along with them, but an argument led him to stop the journey with them in Mexico City.
“I was emotionally because I was leaving my family behind. I was leaving my siblings and grandmother,” Zavala said.
“In the state of Chiapas, there were a lot of dead bodies. We saw people fall off the trailers, they fell to their death, because the cars that came after them would run them over. It was very horrible, sometimes I don’t want to even remember, because I remember the suffering that I went through. Not so much the walking, but we endured hunger, heat and thirst,” Solvia said
They both recall the long hours of walking throughout a given day while at the same time hungry. Solvia remembers many people not being able to stop and buy food because that would get too far behind the caravan group.
Walking became second nature for them as they would go from city to city in Mexico until they reached Tijuana. Solvia says she still has issues with her arms and legs from the hours of walking and from falling arm first once jumping the border fence.
“We had to walk 30 kilometers a day. We always walked,” Zavala said.
Solvia remembers going days without bathing when there was not a place to clean, and caravan members leaving a mess in whatever city in Mexico they stayed the night in.
“The experience was beautiful because we got to know towns, we got to know people. It was bad and good. I did what I could never do in Honduras. I asked people for money so I can buy soda. To keep my spirits lifted,” Zavala said.
In November of 2018, they would reach
Tijuana after over a month of traveling, without knowing where they would live.
Solvia would eventually find shelter at the Benito Juarez Auditorium.
“We were there (Tijuana) for one month, 15 days in the stadium and the rest in a house that a friend let us stay in from Honduras. She wasn’t living in Honduras, she was living in Tijuana because she had papers in Mexico already,” Solvia said.
They were soon deciding on when they would jump the fence after finding out the long and prolong process of seeking an asylum claim.
Every morning as early as 7 a.m., asylum seekers living in Tijuana meet near the port of entry at a tent were other residents of mainly asylum seekers, call out names at random by a number in a note book, while other’s wait in line to receive an asylum number. This is self-organized by volunteers.
Asylum seekers go each day without knowing if their number will be called and some wake up hours in advance to catch a bus from shelters. The announcements are crowed with asylum seekers, volunteers, and journalist alike.
“We went to the Tijuana beach and there was the wall. I thought it was made of blocks but it’s barbered wire. I saw the ocean from Tijuana,” Zavala said.
A professional Coyote would lead them to America through crossing illegally during a cold night in December 2018. Solvia rushed a mile away with her son and others to the detention center and said she wanted to seek asylum. She was afraid she may be in harm or even killed because of the Coyotes association with cartel members smuggling drugs. Once was she in the detention center, she stayed there for a month with her son. She says her, and her son were not separated from eachother while in San Diego and she does not have any memories of mistreatment while there. Her only complaint with the detention center was being overcrowded and waiting in long lines to take a bath and food.
Solvia and her son than traveled through a greyhound bus with the money she had while working a cleaning job in Tijuana, and they would spend a week on their journey to Kentucky. Solvia claims to have a friend name Doris from Honduras, who said she would be her guardian if she lived in Bowling Green, and that is how she traveled to Kentucky from California.
Solvia and Zavala attend the local Church of Latter-Day Saints, and go regularly on Sunday mornings. “It’s been ugly to go to school, but the United States are pretty,” Zavala said. He attends The Geo School in Bowling Green. Solvia frequently worries about her son not attending school because of her son’s lack of interest and has skipped class several times to hang out or to oversleep.
Solvia waits at home to prepare herself to see if she will hear a call back from a job. She worked as a dish washer at another job in Bowling Green, Ky, but became upset with the management. Solvia says this was the first time she was able to send a good amount of money to her family. Since 1-dollar of Honduran ‘Lempira’ equates to 0.4 cent in USD currency; Solvia has been finally able to send money to her family. Jobs have been scarce for her because she only has a temporary visa and does not have a social security number.
Solvia and her son do not speak English and only communicate through the Spanish language. They now live with her Puerto Rican boyfriend. Solvia originally dated a man from Honduras when she moved to Bowling Green, but clams he physically assaulted her, and showed a purple bruise on her stomach that she says was when he punched her. Zavala wants a father figure in his life and wishes his parents had a understanding so his father could have traveled with them to Tijuana, but distracts himself with playing video games and skipping school to see sights in America.
Solvia and Zavala are far away from home, with an uncertain future. For now, she looks for work and her son goes to The
Geo school. Uncertain with were they will live or if they will receive
an asylum claim, for now they are at peace with reaching their goal of
the United States, when so many caravan members didn’t complete the