Season Four, Episode 02 – The Shores Of Acheron

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*This episode has been edited from the original version for safety and editorial purposes.

PRODUCER: We were talking to Jose, the guy that was crossing and he was saying that it costs between $7,000 and $20,000, and I was like, who has $20,000? 

DORA RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. Well, you know what? Most of the stories that I heard, they sell everything they have, they get in debt big time. And if they don’t make it, yeah, there’s a guarantee they go back with that debt.

We have cases sometimes when we were having a lot of people, people were deported, and they have been deported four or five times and they were done, you know, they didn’t wanna do this journey anymore.  And we had them on the phone with their families in Guatemala or El Salvador or Honduras and they wouldl be saying, don’t come. You need to try it again. Because we can, you can come back. We owe all this money. And you see men crying like a kid, but I can’t anymore. I will die. It’s here. It is real.

AUDIO CLIP: 262 miles of hot, dry, often mountainous terrain, and yet more and more migrants are still coming north. It is the last challenge in the migrant journey north, the US-Mexico border, and the number of people making that trip north is on the rise. We’ve gone from months where we were seeing 20 a day, to now we’re seeing upwards to 450 a day driven by money, jobs, a better life.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants cross the southern Arizona border every year, but some don’t make it alive. We’ve been standing in the same spot for hours today, and it has been one migrant crossing after another. Some of them have been pretty dire.

DORA RODRIGUEZ: My name is Dora Rodriguez. I am from El Salvador. I have been in the United States for almost 41 years now. I am the director of a nonprofit organization that’s called Salavisión. We provide aid to our asylum seekers, our travelers, migrants in our border towns. I have been doing this for many, many years, but I never had my own organization. Until 2016 when things got outta hand, we just needed more people to be present at the border.

We live in the desert of Arizona and it’s connected to the desert of Sonora, Mexico. It’s a beautiful place. As I tell everybody, they ask me, so what is the desert like? It’s dry, hot in the summer. The desert can be so beautiful, but it’s very deadly. And you know what I tell people? The desert doesn’t discriminate.

PRODUCER: Can you tell us about what El Salvador was like before the war? 

DORA RODRIGUEZ: El Salvador is a beautiful country, and El Salvador has always been a country in progress. During the war of course, it got stuck for 12 years, but when I was growing up I just remember life being very simple and beautiful and happy. I grew up with pretty much a single mom family, which is very common in our country because my father was an alcoholic.

But even with all those challenges, I was a happy kid. I grew up in a Catholic school, a good Catholic, and then I belonged to the Boy Scouts. I was a leader in the Boy Scouts for many years. I was a leader of the youth group in my neighborhood, and I was happy. I never, in my wildest dreams thought that I was gonna have to leave my country.Never.

The Civil War in El Salvador was about to happen. Many date the start of El Salvador’s civil War from May the eighth, 1979, and the massacre on the cathedral steps by police of 23 demonstrators from the Christian Popular Revolutionary Movement.

What I remember growing up is just hearing that it was only 14 families, the ones that really dominated the money in our country.

AUDIO CLIP: El Salvador has the highest population density in Latin America, a population which has been ruthlessly exploited for more than a century by a tiny handful of very rich families.They live up the hill two miles from the shanty towns in palatial residences, walled and barred from the Civil War, which is tearing the rest of the country apart. 

DORA RODRIGUEZ: In 1976, we started seeing signs of, especially out in the rural areas, the campesinos, they would start organizing because they were still in their land. In order for them to work those lands, they had to pay money that they didn’t have. And the rich wanted it more and more.

What I remember, like in 1978, the people was already organizing like at night in various secluded areas, and Monsignor Romero was involved.

He was already teaching every Sunday in his church. That was not okay for what the government was doing, because long before that, it was already a practice where they would go and get people out of their houses and they appeared dead with no explanation. So people congregated and rebelled. They said, we’re not gonna tolerate this anymore, we’re not gonna let this happen to us anymore. 

So Oscar Romero, of course, he was, oh my gosh, the priest that really went and gathered people in the villages in the most remote areas where there was no water, no electricity, no basic human rights. He was a priest of the people.

AUDIO CLIP: In the center of El Salvadors’ religious conflict was Archbishop Oscar Arnufol Romero. He began as a conservative, but he became a radical when a liberation priest was murdered. Just weeks into his ministry. 

DORA RODRIGUEZ: His sermons were all about justice, and he called out on the government, stop killing your own brothers. Stop in the name of God.

AUDIO CLIP: **in spanish**

DORA RODRIGUEZ: That was one of his last sermons. But he’s been visiting these places for years. For years he was doing his pastoral work and when the war started getting worse and worse, they were after him because they knew that he was just telling the campesinos from the most remote areas in El Salvador, the poor of the poor, telling them you need to fight for your land. The government cannot take your work where you are feeding your family. But of course, that was not taken right by the government because they finished him.They killed him right in the middle of communion, and it was a guy who knew exactly what he was doing. It was just one person, and it was one shot right to the heart. He dropped dead right there in front of everybody.

AUDIO CLIP: He was enshrined in his own words as the voice of those without a voice. The voice of the peasants of Latin America. His martyrdom was only the most conspicuous of a long list, who died for their commitment to the preferential option for the poor. 

DORA RODRIGUEZ: I was there in El Salvador when he was murdered, and of course after that everybody is scared, terrified. It’s just a sense of fear and loss when you’re a little kid and they tell you those boogiemen stories and you don’t know what in the hell is happening next. That’s exactly how it felt. So lost and so dark and so scared.

We didn’t have television in my family. We didn’t own one, so we didn’t see the news that much. So you’re very secluded from everything.

My situation started to change. I remember so well, October 31st, 1979, because that’s the night I graduated from high school. We did a lot of fundraising the whole year. In order to have that party, we were selling everything pupusas or food or running movies, things like that, in order to collect money to celebrate our graduation.

I remember we rented a place where we could have a dance. There was a DJ. They had these huge speakers. Huge. We had our graduation night and we were having fun. But about 10 at night, we start hearing gunshots. And like bombing, and the lights went out and we all got under the tables, under chairs and hide.

And then within half a hour or so, I remember the lights came on and we had to go back home because it was away from home and none of us have cars. So we had to walk long distances in the dark to get to our house. I don’t know how, but we left the party, and I don’t know how we were not detained, but I remember getting home. My mom was terrified because the gunshots and the bombing, it was all over the place, but we made it home. 

Since I was 15, we used to go to church every Sunday. My friends and all of us were just starting gathering together at the church just to have a good time and talk. And then little by little we form the group. We would meet like twice a week after school. And then we would talk about activities that we could do in our community. Like for one Saturday we would go and clean the park. Or next Saturday we would go and bring food to people or all those kinds of activities that come out from the church. And it was fun.

And Renee, he was the head leader of the group and I was his assistant. So it was him and I. We were a group of young kids, I mean teenagers, and we had no association with the government. We had no association with nobody that we could have heard. We were no guerillas, but we were young, so that is the problem. It was a problem.

The following week we were walking home and it was already dark. I got to my house and as soon as I got to my house I heard gunshots and screaming, and they were coming right from Renee’s house and we froze. We stay in our house and I remember my mother was terrified. We just got under our beds and we were hiding and like when everything passed, everything was quiet, and it had to be a couple hours. We went to the area we heard the screaming and the gunshot, and they had murdered Renee.

For the government in those times, anybody who was gathering together was a leader of something was called a guerrilla or somebody fabricating something against the government. 

Oh, it was horrible. It was sadness and so much fear. I mean, I was only 18, and the fact that he was with us, that he was part of my group. So that’s when I started really, really freaking out and I thought, oh my God, they know I am the leader of this youth group. It has nothing to do with the government or guerrillas or anything, but you didn’t have to belong to anybody to get killed. I was just scared. And even then, I never thought to leave.

The thing is that the following year I was gonna sign up to go to the university to become a social worker, and that was a no-no in that time because a lot of social workers were getting killed. They were accused by the government of gathering people and being against them. So I didn’t know when, but in, I guess, a couple weeks or so, my mom spoke with her brother and her sister in Los Angeles and they suggested that I should leave the country.

They thought, well, she’s at the perfect age that she can be a target. I never left my country anywhere. I was very sheltered in my country. I remember it was New Year’s Eve and a friend of mine, her boyfriend, had just got back from the United States. We were neighbors and she says to me, “Dora, my boyfriend knows the way, so maybe we should go because this is crazy.”

And Mierda, my friend, was a fighter too at the time, and she said, maybe we should give it a try. So at that moment we were talking and said, well, maybe we should just leave as a group. So it was five of us that left in the middle of January of 1980. So it was her boyfriend, my friend, another girl, another guy, myself, and we left.

I remember it was more than an adventure for me. And I left El Salvador and then by the third day I was in Mexico City. 

PRODUCER: You guys drove?

DORA RODRIGUEZ: No, we took the bus. No, none of us had cars and yeah, but we went to the shitty motels so the money will last. I was just sitting in the corner of the bed listening to what they were planning they were gonna do with us.

I had no idea where the heck I was and later on this guy came in a truck and he said, “Get in the truck, all of you guys quick.”

So we jumped in the truck. It was a dark, very isolated area. And then he started driving on very dirt, isolated roads. At this point, of course I was thinking, where are they taking us? But prior to that, he wanted to touch us everywhere and I was so angry, and I remember pushing him because he was this heavy looking guy with very strong features, dark. And he had a hat, a big hat on him and boots. I remember him, a person I never seen in my life. And he looked so gross to me and then he wanted it to touch me and he pushed me against the wall and wanted to kiss me and then I pushed him back, and then I started screaming and making sounds, and so my other friends will hear what was going on and he let me go. But you’re thinking, okay, I’m already gonna be in Los Angeles, I’m gonna be in America. I’m gonna be okay. I’m gonna be safe.

So we all got to the border with not too long, maybe a couple miles. He got there and then he said, “Get out. Get out.” And then right at the border wall, and it was not as tall as it is now, we had our backpacks, already have my shoes. And I remember him gaining a rope and saying, you’re gonna climb. I never climb in my life.

I ran to hold onto the pole that he had set up for us. I was able to jump and when I dropped to the other side, and it was like a little hill, and I went down and the lights came on. It was just like these big lights in my face. I was so scared. I never been in trouble with the law. And the smuggler had told us to say that we were from Mexico, but I didn’t sound Mexican. I didn’t know the vocabulary. So I got arrested. 

And the border patrol at the time, I do remember, they were white, very tall. They spoke Spanish. They were kind. They didn’t push me or hurt me, but I know they put me in handcuffs and they’re saying, “You’re breaking the law. You are detained. You’re gonna go back to your home country.”

When I was detained the first time that I keep crying and crying, that was terrifying. And I keep telling them, “I cannot go back to my country. We have a war. I am young and they can kill me over there.” And they didn’t care. But it wasn’t like now that they detain you forever. Within a week I was back in El Salvador. That was my first time in the plane with my shoes full of mud and looked terrible. So that was my first time

I got to El Salvador more scared now because now I had left and they was gonna be questioning why did she left? Why is she hiding? Why did she have to hide? 

AUDIO CLIP: Rightists had attacked and horribly mutilated three men from the nearby town. People in passing buses simply stared and accepted it, and this is what the note left with the bodies reads: “Don’t come back because we know about your actions, and what has happened to these people will happen to you.” And it’s signed. E M N, which is an extreme right-wing paramilitary group. This kind of butchery, which is generally the activity of those on the right wing in this country, is the sort of thing which can be found on any roadside throughout El Salvador.

DORA RODRIGUEZ: At this time, by February, March, April of the 1980, people wer already finding ways to get out of the country, congregating, which is very, very sad because the smugglers, they were in our country, were taking advantage of that. Of course, there were ads everywhere. Go to the United States, be safe. You go on a trip that is safe.

So we knew that people was giving opportunities. It was not the legal way, but at least on my personal experience, I was naive. I didn’t know what the smuggler was. I just knew that they were offering a safe ride to the United States. Within a month my uncle, my mother’s brother, saw the sign of these three smugglers in El Salvador that they were promising to have a wonderful trip that we were just paid $2,500 to $3,000 a piece. And then they were gonna get us to Los Angeles with no problem. They’re cheap. They don’t have a billboard, but they had it on television. They were called a travel agency. They never called themselves smugglers or anything like that. So we went to the capitol, we met with the smugglers. There were three of them, and they say, “Yeah, we’ll take you.”

So we did our trip like in April. I remember my mother taking me to those people that practiced spiritual things, and I remember she’s taking me there a couple days before we took the second trip, just showering me with these flowers and praying over me and putting all these things over my head just to make sure that I was gonna be protected.

It took us like 10 days all the way from El Salvador to Guatemala, Mexico. And the bus, it was 45 of us. There were children in the bus, people of all ages, young guys that you know, were fleeing because they were terrified and the stories you were hearing in the bus was that the military already had gone to their house and they were looking for them.

I think mentally I felt better because I had come once and I knew the length of the trip, and now I felt more safe and secure because we were paying somebody that according to them, they knew the way and I didn’t feel alone. Then as soon as we cross from El Salvador to Guatemala, the border town, they started really not doing the right thing.

There were just this larger number of people everywhere waiting. Mens were in the corners smoking, nervous children, crying, women trying to feed their kids. I mean, it was 45 of us that they were bringing, and I thought, this is chaotic. And then they put us in the most nastiest motel rooms, like 10 people in one room. And some women would get mad at the smugglers and say, you didn’t promise this. And that was in the beginning of the trip. 

Before we even got to the border, they would ask us to get out from the bus and walk for hours and hours in Mexico and all these fields to avoid the checkpoint. So we were to go across by walking in the heat that was in Mexico until we got to the next place to be able to get in the bus again.

Then we get to Yuma that night and the smugglers were putting the babies to sleep. They were giving pills to the kids to fall asleep because they were all crying. And we were walking in this field and there were pesticides. We could taste it, we could smell it, and then we get to a place where it was a canal and we had to jump, and the bottom was the water running.

Oh God, if one of us were to just slip, it was the end of you. So we did, we all help each other in the night and we jump, and we were quiet as much as we could with our little backpacks. And guess what? As soon as we jumped to the other side, the lights went on again. Big lights, and all these guys in green running after us, and we were arrested and there was people everywhere running. But the smugglers, even the Mexican smuggler, we know he run, he left. You don’t even think, you just run. You just think that you’re gonna protect and save yourself.

I was detained and then in the same process, they brought us to the processing center. Wet mud everywhere. We were stinky as pesticides because they don’t give you a chance to take a shower. They get you, you’re gone. We were trained by the smugglers to say that we were from Mexico, so they don’t send you back to El Salvador, they leave you here in the border.

See, they had all this plan and right there I was thinking I was being a smart alec because I was saying that I was by myself, that I did not know this man who was my uncle. I am from Mexico cuz I wanted to stay. I did not wanna go back. My uncle came and knocked on the window where they were questioning me, and he told the officer she is lying. She’s from El Salvador and she’s with me. So they put me aside and said, okay, so you’re leaving with your uncle and you’re going to El Salvador.

We got back to El Salvador, but I tell you, when we got back the second time, it was horrifying. The first thing I saw while we were from the airport and the bus to my town, I saw bodies laying in the road dead. It was very, very scary at that time.

But the thing with the smugglers, they told us, If you guys don’t make it, you have a second chance. That has always been their practice, so we knew that we would have a second chance. So I got home and more scared. I did not go anywhere because I didn’t wanna put my mother and my siblings in danger becuase I was not there for a while.

All I wanted it to do was get out, and El Salvador was dealing with retired militaries who were criminals, and they were the Mano Blanca, and they were the “Squadron De La Muerte” – the death squad. The death squad strike at anyone they suspect of working for the guerrillas or sympathizing with them even when friends are involved. But most of the victims are the sons and fathers of the poor. The children and husbands of these women who marched recently against the death squads,

But they were all retired militaries and they were directed by a military high ranked guy and we all knew who he was. And they will leave a mark in the house, almost like the Bible times. They will leave the mark of the white hand if they will take somebody out of the house. So that means that the family, everybody knew that this group was the one that took that person. You knew that person was never gonna come back.

Two of ’em that I remember so well were assaulted by the government, by the soldiers, and one appeared close to my house, burned with acid and they left him hanging so we could see it. His name was Marcino and I still remember so well. It was just, this black burned human. It was just like a lesson for my community that if you continue to organize, we know who you are.

More scared now because this was my second time and it was a question in the community, why is she leaving? My mom would always say, “No, no, she went to another part of El Salvador.”  Because she was terrified and then I get back and said, I’m back. It was a lot of crying, a lot of sadness.  My family didn’t want me to come back. She said, “No, no, you cannot be doing this. This is too dangerous.” But I will say, well, but it’s dangerous for me to stay. And she said,”No, no, we are gonna survive this war.”  And thank goodness she did it with my siblings. But I don’t know, I just thought that’s what I had to do.

My fears were enough to push me out from my country and because my life was not normal anymore, my life was more on the run. I have to get out, I have to go,  this is scary. All my friends were leaving. Everybody that I knew was not there anymore.

The third time is the good one. We’re gonna be okay the third time.

The organized crime, the people who dedicate their lives to this business have different names. Some people call them coyotes, some people call them smugglers. Some of them are calling them Polleros. Some of them call them guides. So they have all different names, but it’s the same person and they reassure us that we are gonna be okay.

So with the money that we paid the smugglers the first time that we hired them, there was a contract and they said, “We are gonna let you do a second trip if we get caught with the same money.” So we thought, okay, that’s fair. So we had that in the back of our mind that if we were to get arrested and sent back to El Salvador, we didn’t have to pay any money.

A month went by and then we just keep calling and calling the smugglers. When are we gonna go back? When are we gonna go back? They wouldn’t get a hold of us. And then my uncle, of course, keep insisting. He was the one kept in touch with the smugglers, asking them, “Hey, when are we leaving? Hey, are you lying? You ‘re not taking us.”

And then finally, like a month and a half later, they got the plans and they say, “We’re gonna leave this state.” And it was like almost at the end of June. So it was 45 again of us in the bus. But when we got to the border in Lukeville, Arizona, the smugglers, they went and I guess paid local smugglers from that area.

It was a young kid, he was like 20, and his father, and they’re the ones that were supposed to walk with us. We spent there two days trying to get ready. And the heat, it was unbearable, and we already knew that it was dangerous, but we didn’t know any better. They decided to separate the women with little ones, and they sent the women with the children through Yuma because they knew where they were planning to cross us, that it was very hot and dangerous.

I mean, it was the 1st of July in 1980. The temperature was up to 115, 120 in the ground. So they knew. And thank God that they did that because it would be just a horrible situation.

And then in our group there were 26 of us. We got to the border like a day before they crossed us in the morning. I remember we went to a river or some kind of water and we were just washing ourselves and washing our shoes, excited that we were coming to America. Women were so prepared with their rollers and their best clothes because they were gonna meet their family, their husbands.

Then the night came and they had us in the bed of a truck. All of us sitting in there. It was hot as hell and the mosquitoes were all over our faces. It was terrible. And some of the guys were drinking a lot, celebrating that they were gonna cross, that they were eventually gonna be there. So it was all this happening.

Some men was reading a Bible and praying. He got us all together to say the last prayer right at the border. They told us that within a couple hours we’re gonna be in Los Angeles. We’re not gonna walk that much. And that we just needed one gallon of water and that it was okay for us to bring a luggages.

Everything was a lie.

There was no border wall, it was only wire. Around 10 o’clock when it was already dark, you can only see the sky. It was the easiest thing, we just jumped this barbed wire and we said, we’re in America. We’re here. And the smuggler keeps saying, yeah, within an hour we’re gonna have someone to pick us up and take you where you’re going.

One of the women had high heels and she had rollers and that was the nickname for her all the trip because she always had rollers and she was the sweetest woman, and she was just so excited that she was coming to meet her husband that she hadn’t seen it for so long. And the suitcases, everybody, all of us were carrying suitcases when I seen, in my experience. Now you do the journey just with your backpack. Well, no. The Salvadorians, we all had our suitcases with all our stuff we were really doing and listening to the smuggler what he wanted us to do – our life were in his hands. So he said, “All of you guys get in one line and you follow me.” So we all did.

We’re in one line and thinking, okay, we’ve got this. We’re going. And then all of us carrying our gallon of water, it was already half within a half an hour. We’’re all sweating, and it was terrible because it’s pitch dark. You could see just the sky in the big line ahead of you, people walking. And then within half an hour you start hearing all this screaming from the beginning of the line. And what was happening is that cholla cactus were getting into our skin. So everybody stop and pulled those thorns outta your skin and those take your skin out. And I remember my uncle, I got one in my leg and he was biting it to get it out. We didn’t know how to take care of that or have pliers or anything, until somebody says no, get two rocks and get with rocks.

We keep walking, but an hour later we stop and we were exhausted. It was already like 11 at night, but the heat was excruciating and the wind was like this blowing hot air in your face. There was no relief. So of course the water was gone fast.

Almost at the end of the night we knew we were in trouble because we knew we were lost.

By two, three in the morning, the Mexican smuggler, the young one, he got scared and he said, “I gotta go find help because I’m not sure where we’re going, but don’t move. I’ll come back.” He never came back, but he left his father with us. That guy did the whole journey with us.

The first night the first woman died. She was very heavy and she died of a heart attack because the heat was was unbearable. It was at night, but, it was horrible. The whole group was just spread out and resting. And then we heard her heavy breathing and then she was quiet. So we knew that’s the trouble.

We got together. We said a prayer. We buried her body with her clothes, everything she brought, and moved away from her. We just had to leave her there. And then early, early morning, the father of this boy, who was the Mexican mother said, well, we need to continue. We have to keep walking because we’re not gonna stay here, the sun is gonna get us.

So we walked for a couple hours, the highway – they call it the Devil’s Highway. Little by little people start dying and all we did is left them behind.

The second day we all start passing out. I passed out the first time and I remember crying and telling my uncle, because he was older than me and he was sort of my guardian at the time, that I didn’t wanna do it anymore, that I couldn’t walk. I remember passing out and then waking up to a bottle of yellow stuff and I thought, where do you get orange juice?

And then he says, yeah, yeah, it’s just orange juice. He was kind of crazy, but he said, “Yeah, yeah, just drink it. Just drink it.”  And I took the first sip and I just took it back cuz it was a terrible taste. And I said, “Oh, it’s pee.” And he said, “We don’t have any more water.” And it was just 24 hours into the journey.

So everybody was peeing in the same jar and that was a life saving. By the third day we were all drinking lotion. We looking anything that we had in our suitcases that was liquid. We put cologne, we put toothpaste because we thought the toothpaste was gonna cool off our lips. And then somebody said, “Oh, we can just break a cactus and maybe water comes out.”

We’re delusional already. By the third day, a girl –  Amanda was her name, opened a cactus and she was eating the cactus thinking that it was gonna save her. And she got so sick that she died from it. Cause she started vomiting and vomiting and vomiting. So she died in the arms of her aunt. 

And then the third night, the men said, “Well, the ones that are stronger, we need to go and look for help. We need to see if we can make it out.”

But they didn’t have direction. They didn’t know where to go. But the Salvadorian smuggler, one of ’em, he was real pervert guy. He said, “Oh no, I wanna stay with the women. I will take care of the women.” And he stayed behind. By the fourth day, the man went nuts. He went crazy. We had the pee, you know, he was taking care of that and nobody could have anything.

I mean, we’re all dying. And he said, “No, that’s fine.” So he got with another woman that was also going crazy to take care of that little bit of pee, and he told her, “We gotta kill everyone in here so you and I can survive. Or I’m gonna have sex with them and I’m gonna drink their blood.” He was gonna drink our blood to survive.

And I remember that he started beating up one of the women, and you can imagine all these sounds and all this screaming. And that was by the fourth, fifth day, I guess  – I lost track of time. But I just remember crawling myself into a pile under the tree because I couldn’t walk anymore. But I crawled myself and I pretend I was dead, so he wouldn’t touch me. And he would say, “Yeah, Dora is dead. She’s a nice person, but she’s dead. Otherwise she’ll be next.”

And then I could hear the screaming of the sisters said, “Don’t kill my sister. Get away. Away from her.” So what he was doing, he was choking them. And then little after that, I heard the screaming of the woman who was pregnant begging him to kill her because she couldn’t breathe anymore. And then I heard silence.

It was so silent.

That night, one of the Salvadorian guys and the women, they were able to get out to the road, to the highway, and they got arrested by Border Patrol, but they did not tell Border Patrol there was more people in the desert because they were scared and they wanted to protect us. Border Patrol told us that they’ll keep asking them and asking them and they say, “no, no” until the next day and the afternoon.

Until they told him, “Listen, Salvadorians never ever come alone. They always come in large groups. So if you left people out there, no one is going to survive.” So I think that’s how they broke them down. They said there’s more people there.

And I remember it was noon, but I just saw a beautiful start of, you know, like blue sky. And I think I was passing because when I saw that vision I was just laying there. Everything was silent. There was no more screaming, no more yelling up to now. I didn’t know if I dreamt or I saw that, but it was just a beautiful dark blue sky with millions of stars.

And then the next thing after that I was in the hands of Border Patrol screaming in my face, “Don’t go, don’t go. Don’t, don’t, don’t! Wake up!  Wake up!” And all I remember saying, “I want water. I want water.” And then the whole rescue team was there with horses and helicopters and those ATVs that they go around. It was just crazy.

The next thing I know, I have I-Vs in my arms, and then they put us in these helicopters and then they took us to Ajo in Arizona. They took us there. So we spent like seven days recuperating from everything. The hydration or blisters. I know I lost a lot of weight because I was so, so skinny and my hair was burned.

I remember waking up in the hospital bed with all these nurses around me with big, big lights, and I was just naked in the bed and they were all crying. And I just looked at them and I said, “Holy crap, I am in trouble. What happened?”  And then they’re just taking with little tweezers, all the thorns inside of my body. So that’s why they were all crying, but they were wonderful people. I mean, they took care of us.

And then after seven days that we were at the hospital, the government was asking for bond from us to release us. None of us had money to get out. They were asking for $2,500 from each. It was 13 of us. Total was 26 of us with 13 survivors and 13 dead -half of us survived.

The day came up that we had to leave the hospital, be released from the hospital, but since we didn’t have sponsors or people in Tucson – I didn’t even know Tucson. I just knew that they were going to take us out. We didn’t know where they were going to take us, and it’s just a constant fear that, “Why, what’s happening with us?” Where are they going to do that? Are they going to send us back?”

 And then the consulate from El Salvador was trying to visit us. They wouldn’t let him because they were protecting us, because they were, at that point, treating us like asylum seekers and people that have fled a war. So we were under, I guess, protection. 

They released us and we had a few of our belongings and they put us in these white vans and we’re transported. But at the time I didn’t speak any English, so everything that was said  it was fear or worry. I mean, we didn’t know what they were saying or they were taking us. 

And they just start driving and it’s about two hours and a half to three hours from Ajo, Arizona to Tucson, Arizona. On the ride to Tucson, all of us keep talking, “What happened to Carlos? What happened to Elias? What happened to Santos?” Those were the three Salvadorian smugglers. And at that point, I didn’t know that Carlos, the Salvadoran smuggler that was near to me, and so we were scared. “Oh man, they’re going to be very angry at us. We better watch out what we say.” It’s just fear because we didn’t know what happened to them. But I was more afraid of the Mexican smuggler because we didn’t know them, and then we knew that the young guy had left us. The young guy left us the very first night when we crossed the desert, and the father was with us and he was also in the hospital. 

And I remember that that was the longest drive that I ever had. I was in shock. I just could not believe that I was in that situation. And then I keep looking at the desert because it’s nothing but desert. It was a lot of pain because I knew that my friends had died and there was a lot of death. 

They booked us into the Pima County Jail in Tucson because they said, first of all, you guys have to see a judge. And second, you have to pay a bond if you want to get out. It was an ugly experience for me because I was only 19  and I had never been in jail, I didn’t know what it was.

I remember they opened the big gate and it’s heavy and not welcoming. And he just opened it up and it was two silver, long, flat beds and just a white sheet. And he says, “OK, you sit there, you sit there.” And then when I turned around, it was the same. It’s a toilet, a silver color, and it was frightening. I was scared to death. 

So, another woman that was a friend on the journey, Marina, her niece of 19 years old died in her arms, but she was with me. They put us together in the cell and we said, “Okay, you sleep and I’m awake. I’m awake, you sleep.” So we were taking turns to take care of ourselves. Because we saw women, they’re strange to us.

Of course we have a handcuffs, you know, and are just treated like real criminals. So, we were in the jail. It was not an immigration detention center. It was the Pima County Jail where everybody that has committed a crime goes because none of us had the money to get out.

After we recovered the community of Tucson mobilized to get sponsors for us. And the churches, they put the money together for bond to get us out. The reason they let us out is because apparently it was election time. 

AUDIO CLIP (RONALD REAGAN): Rather than making them, or talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back, and they can cross and open the border both ways. By understanding their problems, this is the only safety valve right now they have with that unemployment that probably keeps the lid from blowing off. 

DORA RODRIGUEZ: And other countries had called the White House and said, “You cannot deport these people. They will get killed in their country.” But they wouldn’t want nothing to do with us. So, like, for example, Spain and Canada offered us asylum and the United States said, “No, we need them because they’re witnesses of a crime.” 

The beautiful part of coming to this town was to meet the people from the sanctuary movement. In the 80s they were starting to concentrate and to organize, and they were already doing a lot of work with people from El Salvador. 

To be honest with you I didn’t even know what asylum was. I didn’t know how to ask to stay in this country because we were fleeing a war. We were scared for our lives, and the only reason we stayed in the town of Tucson is because we were witnesses of crime and they were going to prosecute. The smugglers, we were material witnesses for them. 

24 hours later, they just called our names and they put us outside and when we got out from the jail to the parking lot it was out of a movie. It was hundreds of people in the parking lot. But it was the press, the news, but also families waiting for us. 

So from there the lawyers were having all these people sign all these papers. “Okay, you’re going to take this person, you’re going to take that person. You take that person.” 

So, after we were released from jail that night I went with a Mexican family to their house. This family, it was a wife, a husband, and three kids, and they were from Nogales, Sonora, so they spoke Spanish and that was good. They listened to Spanish music. The food was a little different than my food. But it was pretty cool because not only they welcomed me, but their extended family welcomed me. But I always felt that I was put on the spot and it was very embarrassing most of the time because they would have parties and, “Oh, this is the poor girl, the poor migrant that just survived.” 

The most important thing is that they connected me with my mother. So, I knew they were good people because they would let me talk to my family, especially my mom because she thought I had died. The very next day it came out in the newspaper of El Salvador and my picture was in the front, but it said that I had died. 

So, of course, when the tragedy happened on July 5th of 1980, you know, the news started to spread. It came out, I guess it was worldwide, because the news was everywhere. And then an ex boyfriend I had in Germany found out that that tragedy had happened to us. And then, of course, my poor mother was in the newspapers, it was in the television. So my mother did not know that I was alive until seven days later when I was able to talk to my aunt in California, because they thought also that I was part of the group that had died. 

They were my family for a whole year and I never knew them, but they embraced me and I stayed with them. They were the ones in charge of taking us to court and they started very soon, like within a week or so we had to go to our first court hearing. 

So we were allowed to stay in Arizona, but not go anywhere else for a whole year when the trial was on for the smugglers. So we had to go face the smugglers. 

What I do remember is seeing the mother of the girls that die in the desert, the three sisters testifying against the smugglers. It is painful and horrible and because she had to testify and tell these people that I paid for them to bring my girls and instead I get three dead daughters. On the stand you speak to a judge, yeah, we were crossed. All of us, each of us, because they wanted to hear our story. They wanted to hear how we paid them. They wanted to hear who contracted them. They want to hear how we hired them, what was their name, if they knew them in our country, if they knew who their families were, what connections we had with them.

Being in a courtroom when you have never been before in a setting where everything is new. We had lawyers, pro bono lawyers, that were working on our cases. First of all, it’s intimidating, scary, and it’s like not knowing what’s next. And then second, you don’t speak the language. I always had to have a translator. And this tiny, skinny, young girl, afraid of what would happen. We just didn’t know what was going to happen to us because they will not say. “Well, okay, well, you’re going to stay or we’re going to deport you.” They would say, “No, no, we’re still working on the case.” And we were not allowed to work. We were not allowed to do anything.

We went through all those hearings for a while until they finished the sentence, and the two Salvadorans got 14 years. I think they would serve, like, eight years in prison. And the Mexican smuggler, the father, got 15 years also. At the end, he ends up being killed in jail. It was very confusing because although we had lived that tragedy none of us wanted to see them in jail, the Salvadorans. And we felt sorry for the father. There was the old man, but the son left. I just remember  I testified of what I heard, what I saw, but the guy that committed the crime was dead. He died around the women that he killed.

So when the trial ended they were able to say, “You guys will stay, you now can travel to California or whatever you want to do.” And they eventually got us work permits and we were able to stay on an immigration process. You know, like the open cases of asylums. So with that we could have stayed and fight for the process.

And then in the news, oh my God, there was the news everywhere and all the newspapers and people were following us, and it was very confusing. And what I will say is, you know, a life in the United States, in America, it’s really not the American dream. It doesn’t exist according to me. It might be for somebody else, but life here in the beginning is very, very hard because you, as an immigrant, have a lot of barriers.

The barriers of not speaking the language, no transportation, no resources. It’s very, very hard to find yourself in a country where you’re totally strange.

The town of Tucson, Arizona is known by a community that is very involved in immigration issues and we go back to 1980. John Fife, he’s a pastor, a minister, and he and Jim Corbett were working together. So there were just two guys helping Salvadorans fleeing the civil war. And from Guatemala, too, because that was not easy, not a good situation in Guatemala also. So, there were just these two guys getting lawyers who wanted to do pro bono work, volunteers, and then it started turning into this huge movement. Now it’s the sanctuary movement that has all these churches in different states. And these states, they are called the sanctuary states.

AUDIO CLIP: Our next focus is an update on the sanctuary movement, the effort to shelter people from Central America or elsewhere who consider themselves refugees while the US government considers them illegal immigrants. This resolution is a local response to the presence of a new population of refugees who have come to our country fleeing persecution due to their political beliefs in their home country.

JOHN FIFE: Well, my name is John Fife, and we’re in the oldest and poorest barrio in Tucson, Arizona, Barrio Viejo, and in Southside Presbyterian Church that’s been here since 1906. So we’ve been around for a while.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My ancestors had a farm down near the West Virginia border for six generations, going back to before the revolution. So that’s all I knew. And after my first year in seminary, I get a call from this guy in Tucson. And he says, “We’ve got an internship out on the reservation and we got your name and we want to talk to you about maybe you’d like to come out and do an internship out here for the summer.”

And so we talked for a while and he said, “Do you have any questions?” And I said, “Yeah, I got a couple. What’s an Indian and what’s a reservation?” And he said, “Oh.” And I said, “Well, you need to know I’m from Pittsburgh. I don’t know anything. I’ve never been in the Southwest. I don’t know anything about Native American culture or tradition. I don’t know anything.”

And there’s kind of a long silence. And he said, “Well, the church has done a lot of damage to Native Americans over the years. You probably can’t do too much more in three months. Why don’t you come out?” And I did.

PRODUCER: What was the posture of the border at that time? 

JOHN FIFE: The border was completely open. People just migrated back and forth. There was a cattle fence but it was down in lots of places, and there was a gate where there were villages along the border. It was just a completely different context. It was just wide open. There was border patrol, but it was just a token presence. You had to go through a port of entry, but all you did was just show a driver’s license. It was just completely different. Families lived on both sides of the border and they just went back and forth and people came across to shop and went back. 

And then in the 80s, the crisis on the border was that the United States refused to recognize refugees fleeing the conflict in El Salvador and Guatemala, and treated them just like economic migrants. And so that’s when we started the sanctuary movement. 

Central America had always been treated by the United States as our kind of domination of that whole region economically and politically and militarily. And the United States had invaded the nations of Central America, almost all of them, it was just completely economic and military domination.

The result of that, of course, was that 90 percent of the people of those nations were living in grinding poverty. And a few families were enriching themselves and had for a couple of generations on the backs of all that poverty and domination. And so the rebellion in the late 70s, the people of Nicaragua overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, cost them 100,000 lives in an armed revolution. But it ignited the same fervor for change in the rest of the countries of the world, and Central America. And so the military and the oligarchs in El Salvador were faced with this huge revolutionary fervor in El Salvador. “So what do we do?” They started a pattern of repression that was designed to keep the status quo.

So, the United States is in military and political and economic support of those regimes still, and the regimes are running death squads, which were military units operating at night out of, using military intelligence, to identify the leaders of organizations that were pressing for change, kidnap them, torture them for whatever information they could get, and then disappear them. This led to the deaths each year of tens of thousands of people that had been targeted, and the church was a particular target of the repression, because the church had said, “We’re on the side of the poor and their struggle for justice.” 

The Latin American bishops took that stand in 1968, but the Archbishop of El Salvador was one of the leaders of that movement of the church siding with the poor, Archbishop Romero. So they gunned him down when he was saying mass, they kidnapped and tortured and killed four nuns from Ohio who were working there. But they killed 17 priests part of the repression. But the real work of the death squads was to identify Salvadoran leaders of the church that were providing leadership in Christian based communities, and they killed thousands of those folks.

So people basically had two options. They could go to the mountains with a gun and try to defend themselves and their families, and that was what happened in significant areas of El Salvador. Or they could flee and try to find some safe place until it was safe to return. Those people are called refugees under international law. But the United States, of course, refused to recognize them as refugees because the guys who were doing the death squads and dominating the military of El Salvador and Guatemala were our allies, and our allies didn’t produce refugees. Only communists did in the political view of the Reagan administration.

AUDIO CLIP (RONALD REAGAN): My fellow Americans, I’d like to speak to you this afternoon about a grave threat to our country and continent, the communist regime in Nicaragua: a nation closer to our own southern border than Washington is to Kansas City. The buildup of an army and militia of more than 120,000 and subversion throughout Central America.

Today, Communist Nicaragua endangers our national security, it threatens our Caribbean sea lanes, and still worse, it is intent on bringing the nations of Central America under Communist domination one by one – a grim achievement that would send millions of refugees flooding into our southern states. Yet, grave as it is, this threat can be averted.

JOHN FIFE: So the problem was very clear. Refugees from those death squads and massacres of villages and torture and all that stuff, all the repression were being hunted down the entire way up across Mexico because they were undocumented in Mexico, and women were being sexually exploited and it was just awful. And when they arrived at this border, they were being captured by border patrol and deported back to an intelligence screen at the San Salvador airport, right? And some of them never made it through that intelligence screen because they were identified. “Why did you leave? Why did you flee?” You must be part of the revolution, right?”

And so the question came to us, “What’s our responsibility here on the border when that happens?” And I made the mistake of associating with this rancher, Quaker rancher around here, who came to me and basically said, “John, I don’t think we have any choice under the circumstances except to start smuggling refugees safely across the border so they’re not captured and deported.” And I basically said, “How the hell do you figure that?” And he pointed to two times in history. One was the abolition movement when some churches helped smuggle slaves safely across state lines and formed an underground railroad to move them to safer and safer places so they wouldn’t be captured by sheriffs under the Fugitive Slave Act.

And he said, “As we read history, they got it right. They were faithful. They got it right.”  And I said, “Yeah.” And then he pointed to almost the total failure to protect Jews in Europe who were fleeing across national borders from the Holocaust. And he said, “That’s one of the tragic failures of the church in all of church history.” We look back and we say, “The church was unfaithful.” He said, “Yeah.” 

He looked me right in the eye and he said, “So I don’t think we can allow that to happen on our border in our time. Can we?” I said,” I’ll have to think about that,” because I knew what he was asking. And so I finally went to him and said, “Yeah, you’re right. I have to turn in my human being card as well as my ordination in the church if I don’t agree to what you’re proposing.” So, a small group of us began to smuggle refugees safely across the border and bring them to Tucson. 

When we started, we were just bringing them to our homes. We were just into saving lives from capture and deportation. And then our wives threatened divorce. They formed a union and said, “All right, you guys, that’s it.” So then, well, what do we do? Well, the answer was, “Can we bring them to the church?” And the elders of the church here made the first kind of significant decision. “Yeah, you can bring them to the church.” So, we started having people sleep on the floor and having women in the church come down and prepare meals and began a whole process of doctors and nurses providing medical care for some of them in bad medical shape from the journey up across Mexico and everything.

So, the church gets really involved in this and then the Border Patrol sends us a message. This is Fall of ‘81, that basically says, “We think we know what you guys are up to, stop it or we’ll indict you. It’s called transporting illegal aliens and harboring illegal aliens and aiding and abetting aliens.” All of which are felonies.

None of us had any illusion about we were going to get away with it. I thought I was looking at two years in prison, federal prison. So Jim and I sat down and read about the old underground railroad. How the hell did they do it, right? How did they construct the Abolition Underground Railroad? And we just replicated it as closely as we could. We sat down with a map of the United States one afternoon and by four or five hours later we had an underground railroad. 

The government did everything they could. They infiltrated us with undercover agents to find out the underground railroad. They tapped our phones. They paid informants to try to find out. And they never did. It worked in the 1850s, and it sure as hell worked now. So it works. It works perfectly. I mean, we didn’t figure this out or plan it. We just noticed it was working. We were just doing self defense. 

And then, the kind of tipping point was 60 Minutes calls. And says, “Can we film a border crossing?”

AUDIO CLIP:  They crawled through a hole in a fence and dropped into a ditch. Several minutes later, they emerged onto a side street in Douglas, Arizona. A kind of underground railroad run by church workers to help people fleeing from turmoil in Central America. It is the concept of religious sanctuary. Churches giving refuge to undocumented Salvadorans and Guatemalans. At least a hundred sanctuaries are now open. 270 churches in 33 states using an underground network to smuggle aliens across the border. A sanctuary for illegal aliens.

JOHN FIFE: It made the movement, right? So then we got calls from all over the country. Well, 60 Minutes thing. How do we do that? So we started to get calls about how do we do this sanctuary thing in LA or San Francisco or New York or Washington or whatever. We had the beginnings of a movement that we had never had any imagination about.

I didn’t know anybody in Tucson. So the community of Tucson and the sanctuary got together and they got a lot of sponsor families for us. I mean, it was in the news. Every minute, every day. Local news, international news, national news. 

AUDIO CLIP: The number of encounters at the border has been rising due to ongoing violence, natural disasters, food insecurity and poverty in the northern triangle countries of Central America. We’re seeing groups of of 10, 20, 30, all the way up to a hundred coming through at a time. Criminal organizations are lying to these people. They are telling them that Phoenix Tucson is only a few hours walk. 

DORA RODRIGUEZ: So people got involved in our case. So the night that we got out of jail, it was beautiful because that place was packed of people waiting for us and they didn’t know these Salvadoran

Who are they? They didn’t if know we were criminals and they opened the door for us. So I spent the whole year with the family. They sponsored me. There was a bunch of lawyers that came and talked to us and they explained to us our options. Because it was a moment of elections when Reagan was coming and Jimmy Carter was leaving, so Reagan wanted the Latino vote. They told us that it was very powerful for them. It just because we made headlines and it was all over the place and people were saying, you cannot send these people back to a war zone. If they send you back, it’s gonna look really bad on them. Because of that going on, they let us stay. 

It was funny because that first year we were pretty much escorted everywhere we went. By lawyers or by people who wanna know our story, people who wanna write a book. So we always had a group of people or case managers that were guiding us, showing us the world.

But I remember too that first year people would throw us dinners and everybody got drunk and I thought, “Oh my God, we’re coping with this and we’re getting drunk”  So it was like, oh my God, this is life in America! I guess it was just the fact that we were safe. We didn’t have to look over our shoulder. The freedom, I felt free. 

A man who was involved with another survivor happened to be the manager at the McDonald’s, so I connected with him. He connected with us, and then he said, “I can get you a job in there.” So I got my work permit and then I got a job at McDonald’s. I got the very early morning shift, so four in the morning, so I would just get up, get ready and start walking. I would walk, I would say seven, eight blocks to the McDonald’s. And I was just there helping in the morning to open the breakfast time and flipping hamburgers like this and cleaning up. I remember I would go to work at four in the morning, not eating yet, not having breakfast. By six, seven, I was starving. And the McDonald’s, they would throw the food away that they don’t sell, but you cannot eat it. So I would sneak in there and get a hamburger from the trash and eat it because I would be starving. So that was the beginning, you know, of the life in America.

I took the bus everywhere. I made friends. I was working from eight to five every day. And then after that I went to the community college and learned English. Because I thought, well, if I’m gonna stay here, I better learn something.

I didn’t get asylum. None of us in our group got asylum. Most of us got married. I married my high school sweetheart from El Salvador, who his mother had immigrated him. So we were going out in El Salvador for three years, so we knew each other. But he came to America legally because his mother immigrated him. So of course when he heard the news and everything, and he was in Guatemala because he was prosecuted in El Salvador because he and I used to be in, uh, sort of a revolutionary group with the students that would speak out about the injustice that were happening to teachers. His mother had to move him to Guatemala to keep him safe, but eventually he got here in ‘81 and then we reconnected, and then in ‘82 we decided to get married. So he had a green card. So I married him and I got my residency through him. 

You have a survival instinct in you and then I am this person. I made friends. I am very talkative. I get involved and then I start making friends with the sanctuary people. And then I felt that I was doing the right thing because we were already, oh my God, we were already having meetings at night trying to figure out how to bring people from El Salvador to make them get here safe.

In 84, I got this phone call from the sanctuary people. They said, “Dora, we have a family from Guatemala. They need a place to stay.” And of course I said, “I’ll be there.”

So I remember going to the sanctuary where it still is the same church. I remember then Patricia, Byron, the father, and little Byrito, the six year old boy. I picked them up and they only had a little paper bag with their belongings, and I took them home and they lived with me for over a year. So I was already providing shelter for someone.

I was not involved in the larger organization, but I was part of organizing a trip for my aunt and her daughter all the way from El Salvador, and it was really neat because we were seated in the night in the dark rooms, just having conversation of points from El Salvador in which there were like sanctuary places and along the border, along Mexico.

So I remember just describing this map to pass to my aunt. Okay. You’re going to leave for El Salvador. You’re going to get to this place in Mexico or Guatemala and then Mexico, until she got to Agua Prieta.  We were able to get her safe in the United States with her six year old daughter who had a broken arm at that time.

And that was like in 1985 when that was happening. It was great. I was involved, so I feel that. I survived for a reason in that moment, and it’s been like that forever.

Since my kids were growing up I wanted to be more involved. I was always involved with the humanitarian work, with the sanctuary movement and the Samaritans, but not as intense as I wanted to do.

So in 2016, my daughter and my son, who is my graphic designer, they said, “What do you want us to do, mom?”  I said, “Well, I just want you to help me with this and that and that.” So we started our organization and it started growing and we’ve been doing this thing since 2016.

Salvavision is a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Arizona. I am the director. We have been providing aid and so much support in the borders in our area, and now we have a resource center in this very remote area where there was nothing for our migrants. So it is powerful and it’s going. I did social work for 30 years, so I heard story after story after story of people and always help people. But right now, this six years that I have been doing the border work nonstop, the stories that you hear every day, I see myself in those stories very often.

I have my first hand story and the journey. That experience that I know it’s brutal and it kills. It takes lives. And that’s what I tell everyone that I have the opportunity to talk to and they tell me, “Well, asylum seekers or migrants or whatever they wanna call them, they just come here to take our jobs, to destroy our country, to take over, to get welfare.”

And I said, “No, you got it totally wrong.” First of all, as a former migrant, I would’ve never wanna leave my country. I never wanted to leave my mother, my siblings, my culture. But you are forced to do that. I was forced at that time because of the Civil War, and we’re talking 40 years later, we’re in the same. Spot or worse.

PRODUCER: What goes through your mind when you drive this road so consistently? Obviously given your history, like it’s such a beautiful part of the country. 

DORA RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, part of Arizona, it harbors a lot of this kind of, you know, sad stories. So I’m just constantly looking around and driving slow. We always have extra water, socks, a blanket, anything.

The food. Because I drive this alone a lot. 

I remember last summer I found a young boy from Guatemala. He had just turned 18 so he could not turn himself in because he would be deported back. His name was Julio, and we found him in the very, very hot summer and he was coming out and he waved, we stopped. He didn’t have no more water, no more food. He has been in the desert for two days trying to get ahold of his smuggler. The smuggler wouldn’t answer him. He did not know where else to go. And I asked him, “So what do you wanna do” And he said, “Well, I wanna keep trying. I know that I am close.” And I said, “Well, we didn’t have anything.” Because we were coming back already from Sasabe.

We said, “Just go and hide under the tree and we are gonna go to the store. We’re gonna go get your food and supplies, so you’ll be okay.” And we did, but it was so hard to leave and know that Julio was under the tree hiding in there. And he said, “I’m just gonna wait until it’s really dark.”  I say, “Please just walk along the the road. Don’t get yourself into the desert anymore because it’s night and it’s scorpions and it’s snakes, and it’s, you know, wildlife is crazy in here too.” But I don’t know what happened to Julio because I didn’t get his number. 

It’s a beautiful highway. It’s a beautiful view. The mountains, sometimes we see the most beautiful sunsets.

Two years ago when my mother had just passed and I came by myself to visit the women in the resource center, on my way back it was raining and then at the end it was this double rainbow, and my gosh. And I thought, that’s my mother. It covered all the crust, the mountains. It’s like I was driving towards this gorgeous double rainbow. And the smell of the trees, the smell of that dirt. It is beautiful, but then you’re, brain goes back to, oh my God, but it’s people out there that is wet. Soaking wet and they get cold and hypothermia will kill them too. The contrast, right? You have the beauty, but you have the darkness in the other side.

It’s just like…it’s not my job. My job is just to support them as much as I can to save their life and what they have decided to do. I just think they are, migrants are the bravest people there. There is a thing about all poor people. They’re brave. They have courage, they have a dream, and yes, they have fears of the unknown.