Last month, I had the opportunity to go on a Borderlinks trip with the UU College of Social Justice. For those who are unfamiliar with the program, UUCSJ travels with a group of participants to learn about the injustices that are happening in our very own borderlands, specifically near the U.S.-Mexico border between Arizona and Sonora. Through the trip we were better able to understand why so many are fleeing Central America and seeking asylum in the U.S.; what kinds of injustices happen along the journey; and, for those who are stopped, what happens in the detention centers.
As an employee at UUSC, I’ve learned a lot about Central American refugees. As part of the communications team, I am able to spread awareness about these issues through multiple channels. And prior to this position, I spent almost two years with UUCSJ. These issues were not unfamiliar to me. Yet going to the borderlands was an eye-opening and jarring experience. For five days, the group was immersed in this one very complex issue, meeting our partners, walking the desert trails that migrants have walked on, and even meeting migrants being held in detention centers. We experienced many things and we heard many stories, but one story in particular, I know I will never forget.
His name was David* and he was only 19. He came to the United States from Guatemala eight months ago and has been in detention ever since. Through Mariposas sin Fronteras (Butterflies without Borders), our group was able to meet with some of the migrants who were being held in the detention centers, including David. Mariposas sin Fronteras works specifically with LGBTQ detainees, providing case support, translation, visitation, and other advocacy.
David was working for months in the capital of Guatemala and eventually, gang members extorted money from him, demanding that he pay a portion of his salary every month. One month when he was unable to pay, he was sexually assaulted as punishment. He tried to move to a new area, but the gang members found him and continued to sexually assault him. Fearing for his life, he fled.
David was specifically targeted and discriminated against because he was gay. He told us that being gay in Central America means you have no support system and no rights. He shared a story about how one small neighborhood was hiding and protecting a young gay man and his partner, and the gang found out and burned down that neighborhood. The police are often corrupt and work with these gangs so there is no protection. His story is not uncommon.
David is an asylum-seeker who is now a detained. His mother and younger sister are already in the U.S. His sister is only nine months old and he’s never met her. He’s experienced many terrible things in his life, but this is not his whole story. David is, in many ways, your average teenager. He has a lot of energy, his eyes and smile are warm, and despite his detention and what he has been through, he is hopeful. When asked what he’s looking forward to most when he gets out of detention, he enthusiastically said, “Pizza!” He also loves football, soccer, and basketball and eventually wants to be a fashion designer. He looks forward to being reunited with his family and holding his baby sister for the first time.
I continue to be hopeful for him and invite you to be a part of David’s journey and many others like him. Learn more about this issue, take action with UUSC, or experience this powerful journey yourself with UUCSJ.
*While David said I could share his story in the hope that it would help others, his name has been changed here to protect his identity.
Update November 30: David has been released and is now reunited with his family in the U.S.