“I take issue with many people’s description of people being “Illegal” Immigrants. There aren’t any illegal Human Beings as far as I’m concerned.”
― Dennis Kucinich
Tito left Ometepe Island on June 9, 2004 in search of a better life for his family. Until he was 24 years old, he lived with his single mother. His father abandoned the family when he was 14 years old and now lives in Costa Rica with another woman. This is the story of Tito’s journey to the United States, as told to me by a local Ometepian.
Tito had many friends on Ometepe Island. He was a hard worker, intelligent, and pursued English classes offered by the Peace Core volunteer. Tito’s mother owned a chicken bus, a Pullman, that traveled from Moyogalpa to San Marcos. He started to drive the bus at 16 years old, but he needed a special license for bus drivers from 16-23 yrs. old.
He applied for a visa to go to the United States when he was 20, but was denied. Patiently he waited for six more months, reapplied and was denied again. Why? Because he wanted to work in the U.S. to send money home and help his mother recover from debts. He was never in trouble, a good kid, and played baseball passionately. Tito was not trying to escape from violence or a repressive and corrupt government. He only wanted to help his mother. During Semana Santa in 2004, he met a man from El Salvador that was crossing people over the border. He made connections with the man from El Salvador and paid $6,000 by taking out loans. He took 2 t-shirts, 1 pair of jeans, and a couple of dollars. (Tito’s girlfriend, who had a visa for the U.S. had Tito’s baby in the U.S., then returned to Nicaragua.)
He went to El Salvador to meet the man. They took buses to Mexico with only IDs and passports. They were tightly packed into trucks…a very dangerous ride. Once at the border of Mexico and the U.S., near July 4th Tito recalled that the border was tight. He had to wait in Mexico almost two months. He had barely enough money to survive.
Between Mexico and Arizona, they walked through a tunnel into the desert and walked from 5 am to 7 pm all night for six nights with 47 people. But, only 11 arrived. Before walking, they prayed. Some were caught the fourth night. It was the third time that the police had chased them and most of the people were caught. Police had loud speakers warning them to stop. They had to run, so they threw away their water and food. They spent the next two days without water and food. They were pricked by cactus at night, with no flashlights to defend them from the cactus attacks. When they arrived in Arizona, the El Salvadoran coyote transported Tito to Miami in a tightly packed truck. It took 14 days.
When he arrived in Miami where his girlfriend’s sister lived, he met another Nicaraguan man and they rented a room together until his girlfriend and his daughter returned. Now, his girlfriend is an illegal because she didn’t renew her visa, but their daughter has a U.S. passport because she was born in the United States.
Tito worked as a mover and his girlfriend worked in a gas station washing cars, picking tomatoes, painting, and washing dishes. He sent money home to his mother every month, at least $100. Tito has no regrets. He said the work was hard, but he made more money. He’ll have to wait a long time to get his papers.
“What is better? Never seeing your family again, but knowing that they are not suffering or staying and watch them suffer?” Tito asked.
While living in Miami, his grandmother died on Ometepe Island. He couldn’t chance returning to Nicaragua. He, along with his girlfriend and daughter, left Miami because of tension with immigration. They were in New Orléans, when Katrina struck, so he and his tiny family boarded a bus to Houston along with hundreds of Katrina victims. He says,” In Houston it is cheaper to live.” He is now a contractor. His father-in-law died of cancer in Houston. His mother applied for a visa to visit him, but she was denied.