Since I was little, I always saw the injustice in my country; corruption and narcotrafficking occur in my country. Within our university, as in all other powers of the state in my country, authorities are completely corrupt—the executive power, electoral power, legislative power. The executive power is the power of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo (the Vice President and First Lady at the same time).
In January of last year, there were some disagreements among part of the general population in Nicaragua....In April of last year, there were disagreements over fair pension reforms, and, by the end of March, the government had started a fire on a Nicaraguan nature reserve.
The nature reserve was like Central America’s natural lung, just like the Amazon is the world’s lung. So I said, “no, no, no! Enough! We need to start a protest.” Article 30 says that if we do not feel that we are in agreement with a certain situation, we have the right to demonstrate freely.
But after that, the persecution of Nicaraguan students began. The persecution continued until the government wanted me and had plans in place to kill me. They persecuted me, they shot at me, but thank God they didn’t hit me. From there the repression against the student leaders grew more constant. It was then that I decided to leave the country. Halfway through August of last year was when I crossed through Honduras and after, Guatemala, and after that, México. So then it occurred to me, because of the persecution, to leave the country, because I saw that my life was completely in danger. So I arrived on January 29th in Tijuana, if I’m not mistaken, and then from Tijuana to the U.S. border. In México, I had been robbed of my documentation, my Mexican visa, my identification. I was one of the first from my area in León (I am from there) to go against the command of President Ortega-Murillo. And so the channel, the [paramilitary] social network was publishing—I don’t know how—all the facts about me having left Nicaragua and that I was in Honduras, and that after I was in Guatemala, that I came to México...and it was true! So I also saw that it isn’t safe for me in México, because they have all my information.
And he looked at me and he kept yelling at me and it was like he was trying to intimidate me.
So I arrived in the U.S. that January 29th, but when I presented myself [to border patrol] they told me that I had to wait almost 3 months for my number to come up. I didn’t have documents or absolutely anything that said that I was Nicaraguan. All I had was a sheet of paper that had my first and last name—only that. And I showed that to the Immigration official, and he began to tell me awful things: “This doesn’t work, this is nothing, this doesn’t confirm that you are Nicaraguan.” And I said to the official, behaving with all respect, “You know what? If my life weren’t in danger, I wouldn’t be here.” And he looked at me and he kept yelling at me and it was like he was trying to intimidate me.
After that I remember that they put us in some rooms in San Ysidro, which is the border gate between the United States and México. They put us in some rooms below where the gate is, like in tunnels, and they began much stronger interrogations—interrogations where they questioned you, yelled at you, where they told you things. But you know that because you are not in your country you have to put up with all of this and not say anything, because they are looking for some reason to deport you. And so I always answered them, even though I knew that they were completely violating my rights, because I know very well—I'm a student—and I know very well what the asylum process is, although each country has their own way of doing things. But this was completely inhumane from the moment they began to yell. I was there all day; they were there yelling at us—the poor mothers with their kids, the fathers...
But this was completely inhumane from the moment they began to yell.
After that they put the men and women in different rooms. Everyone was divided up into rooms. It was so shocking when I entered the “icebox;” I began to sense an unpleasant odor. Why? Because what happens is that they don’t let anyone bathe. It is completely horrible. It is completely inhumane, and the worst is that this whole process wore on me so badly. They try to beat you, to provoke you, to humiliate you. They tell you that you should die in your own country—horrible things, things that you could never imagine.
I remember that I was in the “icebox” for two weeks, two weeks that, for me, were complete psychological torture. Remembering this now is traumatic, because I have suffered trauma throughout my whole life in my country. They put the air conditioning on full blast, 24 hours a day. They give you bitter, spoiled food. I remember that in the moment I ate the first burrito, I stopped eating. The truth is that after that, during the two weeks that I was in the icebox, I cried and cried. I remember crying near the bathroom because I sensed the odor of the bathroom. I cried, “why is this happening to me? What is happening to me in this country? All I want is for them to help me.”
After the two weeks passed, they transferred me to another detention center. From there, I thought they were going to release me, and that I was only going to be there for two weeks. They interview you, then they do another interview in addition to the other interview you just had, they show you papers and all of that. When they do release you, there is another interview with Border Patrol.
They chained my hands, they chained my feet, as though we were criminals, as though we were murderers.
From there, they transferred me to the detention center in Arizona. Before they transferred me, I thought, “okay, they are going to release me, but why am I in shackles?” And I cried, and cried. I cried because I hadn’t committed any crime. “Why are they putting me in prison? Where are they taking me?” They chained my hands, they chained my feet, as though we were criminals, as though we were murderers. In that moment I decided that I have to talk about what is happening here. I can’t remain silent because there are international treaties. These are refugees and this is completely inhumane. This can’t be happening.
The conditions [at the Arizona detention center] were completely horrible. The treatment from racist officials, the completely horrible food, they discriminated against you, the work that you have to do—like cleaning—they want to pay people $1/day and people are cleaning the detention center all day long, doing work for people who want to cheat them: “Okay, we’ll give you one dollar and you will work all day.” How are they going to maintain that? Because the truth is that I’ve noticed that it’s all a business. What is happening to people, this is just a business, a market. The commissary is completely expensive--a chocolate bar costs three dollars! There were people that didn’t have that and the food was completely bad. It was bad food.
I remember that one of the officials in that moment said, “Damn immigrants! You should be dead!”
I remember a scene, because there was a television in the room where I was, and I remember that there was the news about the dad that had died alongside his daughter when they crossed the Río Bravo, and I remember that in that moment we were crying because we were going through that. That poor dad! That poor girl! Remembering that is awful. I remember that one of the officials in that moment said, “Damn immigrants! You should be dead!” And I remember that I, having reached the point at which I was fed up with so much discrimination and abuse, said, “You know what? Thanks to us you have food on the table, because if it weren’t for us, if we hadn't immigrated, how would you support yourself? Because this detention center is here because we are immigrants. We are the ones who are feeding you,” I said. He seemed surprised, of course, and didn’t answer me. And after that I was always constantly looking at the food, the inhumane treatment, the lack of medicine.
As men and as women we were always separated. So I remember that in the kitchen there was a young woman washing the dishes, and there was a window there, like a window so that you couldn’t communicate with the women. I remember that some young men were passing by there and checking out that girl. And then, the official said (and I remember the official’s words really well), “Why are you all checking out that stinky girl?” And I was really surprised. I was like, “stinky? Man! How is it possible that a man in that position can maltreat and say such things to a woman? How is it possible that a man is saying these things to a woman? Showing his machismo and superiority, like saying that she wasn’t worth anything simply because she was an immigrant.
I did meet people from all over the world, from Australia, from China, from Japan, from Vietnam, from Africa, South America, Europe—from all over the world. There are lost people everywhere; perhaps they are immigrating because perhaps there is a bad economy in their country, or because of the same reason—that they cannot be safe in their country. That’s where your outlook changes because you only know what happens at the national level in Latin America, but you don’t know what is happening on a global level. And then when you begin to learn the history of all people that you didn’t know about before, who are ultimately going through similar situations, like, for example, people from Cameroon, you say, “Wow! The same thing is happening in my country.”
There was a lot of friendship. I remember for my birthday everyone organized a birthday celebration. I love chocolate and I remember that chocolate cost $3. Everyone chipped in and bought chocolate and a cake. The truth is that there was an amazing unity, but the situation was awful, because I spent my birthday locked up in the detention center.
From the moment you arrive, Border Patrol asks you questions, and after that another question, and after that, another question. I spent three hours in one interview. After about a month I had my first hearing. The hearing is where someone who doesn’t have papers has to present himself directly before the judge, who says, “okay, you entered illegally.” The second court hearing is the asylum application where you turn in an asylum application of why you were fleeing. The third is a hearing for the presentation of evidence. I had photos, letters from the Catholic Church that my life was in danger, letters from human rights organizations, media clips from my country, things like that.
They don’t let you get evidence from your cell phone. They don’t let you do absolutely anything.
When I was in Tijuana, I carried all my evidence on my cell phone. They told me not to worry, that inside the detention center they give you permission for evidence. But this is a complete lie. They don’t let you because they take everything from the moment that you are locked up. They don’t let you get evidence from your cell phone. They don’t let you do absolutely anything. The evidence has to be physical, already prepared, and you have to carry it. But I saw that the judges here do their job, because ICE didn’t succeed in this case. For example, there were people whose evidence was on their cell phone and they were never allowed to take it off their phone. They ended up losing their case because of that. But really these people who carried their physical proof, protected among their belongings, they told the judge, “I have my proof in my things.” And the judge sent a direct order and they had to bring the evidence to the judge.
After that I had a fourth hearing and the truth is that I had a big advantage because I had a great attorney. The judge told my attorney that my case was very, very strong. The fourth hearing only lasted an hour, but there were cases I learned about that lasted up to 5 hours! But mine took an hour: it was only the state prosecutor that started asking questions. It seems that everything they do from the beginning is to see if everything agrees with what you have said. Everything has to line up. Everything on your asylum application has to be the same as what you have said. There are an endless number of things.
We can create a humane world.
And I ask, why am I accepting such a long, difficult process? I also began thinking about another point: The United States has security agencies in every country. So why do this? Even if people’s lives are not in danger, why not let them work, or create a plan where people can work legally? Or if they only want to work in this country, why not create a plan where people can work peacefully? Perhaps it wouldn’t offer them legal permanent residency, but a worker status. Why not allow that? We can create a humane world. I know that people in the United States don’t have anything to do with politics. People in the United States are good people who have nothing to do with what is taking place in immigration.
*name changed for purposes of privacy
Editor's note: Javier has been granted asylum and is currently living with a sponsor in Vermont.
Cover art by Erickson Martinez, who was deported to Colombia last year.
Many thanks to Robin Valenzuela, who spoke to Javier and provided translation