From a letter sent to FFI from Alex*

I was born in Mexico City and I first came to the United States in 1992 when I was 4 years old.

To be honest, I don't know much about Mexico. It is a foreign land to me and I know a very limited portion of the language, which would hinder me in obtaining work or living a healthy and successful lifestyle if I was to get deported.

I obtained my education in the U.S. My life, my loved ones, my home and everything I know is here, including my son and my newborn daughter.

I am currently detained by ICE at Dodge County Detention Facility. I've been in custody since April 18, 2018. Immigration came to Green Bay, WI and put me in their custody over a misdemeanor offense that I didn't even commit. I was actually the victim not the aggressor. I had to hire a criminal/immigration lawyer who on November 2nd proved I was innocent, got my charges dismissed and applied for my immigration relief (U-Visa) since I was a victim of battery. The immigration judge finally granted me an $8,000 bond but unfortunately I'm still detained because neither me nor my family cannot come up with that large sum of money.

Art by Erickson, currently detained at the Krome Detention facility

Being here detained, you are basically an inmate. They don't treat you any different. I am locked up with federal guys who are doing life in prison and 6-15 years. It is scary and you always gotta watch your back. DCDF is basically where federal inmates who got sentenced already come and wait here till they classify them and decide what prison they are going to. And me, I'm just doing time here, fighting to go back and get reunited with my loved ones. I've been here now for 11 months and see so many immigrants come and go. It is so sad to see them vulnerable, broken, crying, trying to not let go of HOPE! We have no control of getting back reunited with our families, our kids, spouses.

At a blink of an eye your whole life and everything you worked for gets shattered. And that means you lose your house because you can't make payments, your car, your job, and most important being there to support your kids.

I missed my son's birthday because I'm in custody. What hurts me the most is that he just started his first year of high school and he needs me to be there for him. This affects him psychologically and everyone knows that high school years are the hardest years for a teenage boy who is now broken because his dad got taken away by immigration. To make this pain even more intense is that I wasn't able to be present in the delivery room in October when my daughter was born. Everything fell apart for me!

I have no control of it. Times are hard for my son and for my daughter's mother who needs me to be by her side helping her and my baby girl. When I call her on the phone every day she cries "It's hard!" She has another daughter and raising two daughters alone is taking a toll on her.

This is all too much to handle. I get headaches, heartaches and a lot of anxiety.

I wish I can take away the pain that my family is going through.

I don't think America knows what us immigrants go through each day and how much pain immigration/ICE is causing by tearing our families apart. All I see in the news is President Trump having so much hate for us, saying that we are rapists, criminals, killers, when in fact we are not. We came to America for a better life and for a chance to work hard and obtain the American Dream. Wouldn't they want a better life for their families too?

In Mexico there is a lot of deaths by drug cartels, violence, kidnapping and a lot of corruption. Which is why I'm afraid to get deported.

In April 2014 was the first time I got picked up by ICE and was in cutody in Kenosha County Jail. When I consulted an immigration lawyer then, he said there was nothing I could do to stay in the US. Little did I know I did qualify for a Cancellation of Removal because I've been residing here for over 20 years. I have a kid who is a citizen and finished high school. Long story short, the lawyer I contacted gave me the wrong information and I took voluntary deportation. His mistake cost me obtaining my residency in 2014.

Once boarding the plane, I felt like no one, defeated. My heart was broken. They shackled my legs and my arms were chained to other immigrants. Tears were coming out of my eyes as we walked in a single line to the plane, chained like animals. All that was going through my mind was: what did I do? What did I do to be going through all this pain? I didn't kill or hurt anyone, sell drugs or rape. I have no felonies on my record.

When the plane landed and I first stepped foot in Juarez, MX, we walked over the bridge and I saw a gray van. Four guys with guns came out and abducted five of us immigrants. I started to run with another guy I met on the plane ride there.

We ran and ran till we saw a church. We walked in, explained what happened. They said that the cartel has been abducting immigrants coming from the US, that there was no point in calling the police because it's all a big circle of corruption.

They fed us and let us spend the night there. Next morning, they got us tickets and took us to the bus station and made sure we were safe.

I for sure thought I was going to get abducted and killed for my organs. Not a good feeling.

When I got to Mexico City, I had no idea what to do or where to go. I mean, it was a pretty big city. Imagine this: you I spoke fluent English and not much Spanish and it was hard to tell cab drivers where to take me. I ended up going to my Grandma's, who I happened to meet for the first time.

All in my mind at that time was my son and his mom who needed me. My whole family was in the US, and only my grandparents lived in Mexico City. I kept saying I need to go back ... I need to go back ...

Yes, I was born in Mexico City but was brought here to the US when I was 4 years old. That's 26 years of residing here in America, basically my whole life.

Being in Mexico City, I was robbed 3 times, two of them at gunpoint and one with a knife at my throat. I was scared for my life every day and didn't know what to do with myself anymore.

I spent a year there and could not take it anymore. I had a feeling I was gonna die sooner or later and my family needed me here. I said, time to go back home and get reunited with my family. So I headed to Sonora, MX. There I met with a "coyote" to help me make myway back to the US.

What I didn't expect was that the coyote never asked the cartel for permission to pass through. The cartel then decided to take us hostage till they got their money. Five days passed by with barely any water or food and they never got paid. The man in charge got on his walkie-talkie to talk to his boss and asked him what he should do with us. The man on the radio went by a code number and responded, "Decapitate their heads and dispose of them!" I then yelled that it is not our fault you didn't get the money, the coyote took it and was supposed to come back and never did.

Me and the three guys I was with got put on the ground. The man in charge walked over by us and told me, "Listen, I have orders to kill you all!" At the moment he said that, I felt something inside me I never felt before in my life. My heart was pounding so fast I thought I was gonna faint. I was, like, "Is this it, God? Is this how I'm gonna die? A slow and painful death?" I whispered to myself, "Sorry I failed you, my son. I love you with all my heart!" I told the man to get it over with fast and not to make it slow.

And for some reason, he touched his heart and said, "Get out of this town. Run, and make sure we don't see you all again because me and my guys will finish the job."

We left on foot, stopped at a store to buy water and some food, then we went inside the desert with not guide, just a compass.

I told myself right there and then that if I stayed here I'm gonna die anyway, so why not at least die trying to come back back to my family.

I was in the desert for 17 days straight, doing my best not to be caught by the cartel and ICE. Every night in there I would look up at the stars and ask the Great Divine to help me guide my way and to help me find water because we ran out.

It was a journey of hope, courage, faith and acceptance. I was determined to come back to my loved ones.

It was a miracle that I made it alive those 17 days and everything I had to go through in life because of ICE. I don't wish that upon anyone.

When I finally arrived in Green Bay, WI, my life was great and back to normal. I was managing a restaurant and I personal trained part-time. I was gonna move to Chicago to finish my career in photography until ICE picked me up on April 18, 2018. This time I decided to stay and fight for relief.

As you can see, I've been in custody for almost a year now. And after so many court battles, my lawyer did a great job. On November 2nd the immigration judge finally granted me a bond of $8,000. Unfortunately, I'm still here waiting because my family can't come up with the money. My grandfather recently died of cancer so they had to spend a lot of money (may he rest in peace). Last week they tried calling bond agencies such as Nexus, Gonzales Immigration Bonds. But they are asking them to sign properties over as collateral - and we don't have any.

This is all a nightmare that I can't take anymore. I want it to be over. My last court date is February 26th, 2019. The judge said they only grant 10,000 U-Visas a year, and are behind 10 years. So if I don't bond out before the 26th I will get deported and wait for my U-Visa there and it can take up to 5 ot 7 years, or even longer depending on the list.

If I get deported, who knows what my destiny will be in Mexico. I'm not afraid of death. I'm only afraid for my son and daughter to grow up without a father. They need me here by them as much as I need them.

*Real name withheld

Editor's note: The above is from a letter sent to Freedom for Immigrants; Alex has since been released on bond.