A woman who made the grueling trek through Mexico to the U.S. border, and eventually made her way to East Providence, tells of the hardships she endured in Guatemala and her hope for a better life as she seeks asylum here.
I asked her what it’s like to be in a migrant caravan marching from Central America through Mexico to the United States.
The first day, she said, she walked almost 12 hours with her eight-month-old baby. She was among 2,500 people. That night, most slept on pavement.
The next day, a Good Samaritan gave her an old stroller, but soon they were walking over rocky terrain, so she had to abandon it.
On many days, she was able to ride buses, but such transport also led to a few tragedies. Several in the caravan, she said, died trying to leap onto a moving train.
She arrived at the Tijuana border near San Diego and gave herself up to Homeland Security, which cleared her to apply for asylum. She is now living in East Providence with a host family.
She has legal protection to see the process through, but President Donald Trump has made her fear deportation, so she asked to be anonymous. She asked that for another reason, too — personal trauma. She became pregnant after a rape and says her husband, disbelieving it, threatened to kill her. That’s why she fled her native Guatemala.
So we won’t use her full name — just Magaly.
I met her at Providence’s Genesis Center, which helps immigrants with English and job skills. She’s 5 feet tall with mid-length dark hair.
Marcos Bonilla, 22, from the Dominican Republic, a center employee studying to be a citizen (and also holding two other jobs while serving in the Rhode Island National Guard), did the translating.
We were joined by Genesis teacher Larry Britt, who told me the caravan that has been in the news was not the first. There have been others in recent years, and Magaly joined one that left for the States last March.
She told me she never knew her father, and because her mother was unable to support her many children, at age 15 Magaly was sent to live with an aunt. But the aunt, she says, became abusive, so at 16, Magaly ran away, working at a clothing factory for $90 a month. She rented a room with another girl.
I paused to observe that she’d had a hard life.
She smiled: “If I wrote a book, it would need a lot of pages.”
She married, with her older children now in their teens, but then came the rape and fear that her husband would kill her. So she fled.
At first, she lived with friends. But she was afraid he would find her, so she moved to shelters.
She considered migrating to America on her own, but worried about safety — and how to go about it.
Then, last March, her shelter posted a flier about a caravan. It was from Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a migrant-support group that has helped caravans with food, buses and other needs.
Magaly decided to go, bringing only her child, some baby supplies and 100 pesos — about $5.
At 4:30 a.m., when the morning was still cool, they began the journey.
I told her that critics have said caravans are full of drug dealers, gang members and even terrorists.
That brought a small smile. “Nooo,” she said. It seemed to her that most were women and children.
Those with babies were often allowed to ride old buses supplied by Pueblo Sin Fronteras. Sometimes, she slept aboard; other times in parks, on roadsides or in churches.
Locals, many of them poor, sympathized and gave food.
I asked if she considered staying in Mexico.
“It’s not safe there, either,” she said.
Magaly knows there’s crime in America, but not nearly as much, and criminals are pursued and arrested. Often, she said, that doesn’t happen where she comes from.
Finally, after a five-week journey, they made it to the Tijuana-U.S. border in mid-May.
I asked if she threw rocks and tried to rush the fence — as happened in late November.
A small smile again.
“No one wanted to break rules,” she said.
One difference is that the current caravan was kept waiting in Mexico for weeks, while Magaly’s group was processed in days.
Her caravan’s organizers gave lists of all names to U.S. immigration people, and eventually, it was Magaly’s turn to be called to the border gateway.
She handed herself over.
U.S. officials took her fingerprints and personal information, and for the next few weeks, she was held in ICE detention centers.
Larry Britt, the Genesis Center teacher, told me that an East Providence family heard about the caravan and offered to sponsor someone. That’s how Magaly came to Rhode Island.
I reached out to Magaly’s Rhode Island immigration attorney, Diecelis Escano. She explained that migrants like Magaly are initially processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If a special interviewer with Homeland Security finds that undocumented arrivals show a credible fear of persecution if sent back to their home country, they are allowed to apply for asylum.
The final decision is made later by an immigration judge after a full hearing, but because of backlogs, that can take a year or more.
Escano said it’s a good sign that Magaly passed the first threshold.
But she added that the president’s crackdown on immigration is making it tougher to be granted asylum.
Magaly is now studying English at Genesis 30 hours a week and is applying for a temporary work permit while she waits for her case to be heard.
I asked if she thinks she’ll be able to stay.
“It’s in God’s hands,” she said.
I asked about her other children. They are still home with family members.
As we sat, Magaly’s phone chimed. A relative had sent a picture of her daughter.
Magaly looked at it quietly, then took out a tissue and wiped away tears.
— Mark Patinkin’s columns run Sundays and Wednesdays.
Facebook: Mark Patinkin, Writer