As told to Lezak Shallat by Edwin Espinoza
Despite their own immigration struggles, Oscar's relatives are trying to raise the $10,000 bond to free him. Edwin Espinoza, Óscar’s cousin, has created this GoFundMe campaign for contributions: https://www.gofundme.com/free-oscar-armando-valle-rios Please consider a donation!
My cousin Óscar is what you’d call a family man. He’s young, in his early 20s, and his life has always revolved around his young daughter, his wife and his mother. He’s a baker, and would leave his house in Tegucigalpa early every morning. Each night when he got home, first thing, he’d find his little girl and hug and kiss her, and then his wife. Then he’d go and greet his mother. That was his routine.
At least, that was his routine until escalating threats from the pandilla 18th Street gang forced Óscar to move his wife and daughter into hiding. Pandilleros had been following him for months, trying to recruit him. One day, they followed him for five blocks before overcoming him. They forced him to kneel and put a gun to his head, saying: “Join us or we’ll kill you.”
Óscar begged for his life and prayed aloud, asking God for one last chance to make it home safely. That’s when he decided to join his brother in Miami. Because if he stayed — or if he returns — they’d kill him. We have friends who were killed for refusing to join the gangs. If you refuse to get involved, they’ll punish you.
Óscar wants safety, to work hard and create a better life for his family.
But he hasn’t had the chance, because he was picked up by the border patrol right after crossing into the U.S. near Mexicali. That was about six weeks ago. He did that interview they call “la creíble,”where you explain why you had to leave and why you can’t return. And he was sent straight into detention in Adelanto. That’s somewhere in California.
The court set a $10,000 bond, so we’re trying to raise the money to free him.
Óscar doesn’t have a lawyer. I’m told that you don’t get a lawyer if you turn yourself in. You have to find your own lawyer. I’ve made dozens of calls to lawyers but they never call back.
Óscar’s brother is in Miami and I’m in New York. We can’t visit him. But we’re doing what we can to help him. And it’s hard, because we have our own immigration problems. I’m also from Tegucigalpa, and I was also threatened by gangs. I’ve been here about six months and I just presented my papers to court, without a lawyer. I came here with my wife and daughter. It’s been very, very tough. But we can’t give up.
My cousin loves his daughter so much. She is his daily inspiration to continue fighting.
Editor’s note: Edwin proclaims his faith in this music video he stars in and helped produce: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqLL6yzQkNs