From a translated letter sent to FFI by JC* while he was detained at Otero County Processing Center. He and his family have since been deported to El Salvador. Recently, JC provided an update on his circumstances, which can be found at the end of this article.
By means of this letter, I send you my warmest greetings hoping that God almighty protects you and pours out his blessings upon you and your families.
I’d like to take the time to introduce myself. My name is JC. I am 35 years old and from El Salvador. I left my country with my wife and two daughters, 10 and 11 years old, as we were victims of threats and persecution inside and outside of the country. I was a victim of attempted murder and was wounded with a firearm. As a result, I use an internal prosthesis in my right leg. I used to work for my country’s government. I am a professional cartographer and create maps of the Salvadoran territory. I was accused of working undercover for the government by the criminal gang, Mara ms-13.
This unfortunate incident caused my family and I to flee our country on September 26, 2018. We arrived to Tapachula that same day and tried to start our lives over again. We began to study and work in Mexico. This criminal gang followed us there and we were forced to flee again. On January 2, 2019, we arrived to the south border, between the cities of Juarez and El Paso.
When I told them we were from El Salvador they said, “We don't want Salvadorans. Get out of here."
We arrived to the Bridge Americas to surrender and request asylum. We needed help because my youngest daughter was very sick with a high fever. I begged the U.S. officers to help us but when I told them we were from El Salvador they said, “We don't want Salvadorans. Get out of here. Get out.” My daughters were very scared so we went down from the bridge.
We had no other choice than to cross the river with my daughters in my arms. We quickly looked for a border patrol officer to surrender and when we found one we yelled, “Help, help, we are seeking asylum. My daughter is sick. Help.” He then turned to us, reached for his gun and said, “Get down to the floor. You are under arrest.” The four of us laid down on the floor. It was very painful to see my daughters scared laying on the floor. We were then taken to the border patrol office. There, while we were soaked and wet from crossing the river, shivering, handcuffed and terrified, my family was separated. We were sent to a cell called “hieleras” (icy in English) due to the fact officers turn on the air conditioning so high that people start shivering. People lay on the floor in these overcrowded cells. Women and children are taken to a different cell, which are as horrible and cold as the men’s cell.
I was the victim of insults, threats, slurs and robbery.
While I was at the Border Patrol office asking for help for my daughter, I was the victim of insults, threats, slurs and robbery. They told me: “damn immigrants, why don't you die? Why do you come to my country? Do you want me to beat you up? We are going to deport you, stupid. We are going to kick you out of our country. Give me your backpack, give me everything you carry with you."
They took away the clothes and shoes I had in my backpack, 6,000 Mexican pesos and all the asylum supporting documentation such as: proof of social media documents from radio, television and newspapers that broadcast and published my case of attempted murder, criminal charges presented by the prosecutor’s office of my country and Mexico, police and medical reports of the twelve gunshots I received. I begged them to let me keep my documents but they took them away.
There, I begged for medical attention but nobody cared.
The next day, I got seriously ill due to high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia and was taken to the hospital in Deming. There, I begged for medical attention but nobody cared. When I came back from the hospital I could no longer locate my family until 12 days after. I was transferred to a prison called “Cemento” (cement in English) where I stayed for 10 days in pain and suffering from physical injuries and bruises from the tight handcuffs on my hands and feet.
Currently, I am in the Detention Center called “Otero II” in which I have been the victim of discrimination, insults and deportation threats. I have been called damn immigrant and told why don't you leave? They have also threatened to beat me up.
We are given tiny portions of food, poorly prepared and not enough to feel satiated. Breakfast is at 5:00 am and dinner is at 3:30 or 4:00pm, which means that we spend up to 14 hours without eating. If you want lunch, then you are expected to do cleaning jobs without pay. There are cafeteria services at night but only a few can afford it. Most of us don't have the financial resources and don't know friends or anyone who can help us. In addition, these services are overpriced.
There are also detained immigrants that are offered jobs. They are expected to work 11 hours or more at $1 daily.
In this detention center I have been punished to spend 18 days in solitary confinement, also called “el hoyo,” because I was accused of being in contact with journalists and for being part of a “group demonstration."
You are fed early which means you spend more time starving.
“El hoyo,” or punishment cell, is a room in which there is metal bed with a thick mattress and a toilet next to it. It is approximately 7’54” wide by 13' 1” long. The food tray is pushed through a rack. The light is on 24 hours. You are fed early which means you spend more time starving. “El hoyo” is very cold because of the high air conditioning. You lose sense of time.
Some Cuban detainees complained and went on a hunger strike to defend their rights just to end up in “el hoyo." All officers, sergeants, and lieutenants threaten detainees if we attempt to defend our rights.
In the dining area, you are allowed 7 to 10 minutes maximum to finish your meal, sometimes even 5 minutes. These are all the physical and psychological mistreatments I have been victim of. As a result, my cardiac arrhythmia and high blood pressure are worsening.
I never thought that the United States would torture and hunt us like animals rather than helping us.
Thankfully, my wife and daughters are free in California. It is very painful and overwhelming not to be with them. We all are suffering from being separated. We have never been separated before. I pray every day to reunite with my family. They are all alone and helpless. My daughters wake up crying from nightmares about the day we were separated. I cry when I think about being able to hug my wife and play with my kids again. I wish I could wake up from this nightmare. I never thought that the attempt to save my family and my life would result in our separation. I never thought that the United States would torture and hunt us like animals rather than helping us. I never thought I would lose my freedom and end up detained like a criminal for asking help. I have never been in a situation like this…
I want to say bye while thanking you for allowing me to express myself. I hope I didn't make anyone uncomfortable with my words. I hope God pours out his blessings upon all of you and your work to become “the voice of those without it." I hope this campaign of hate from Trump and his government ends and people become aware that everyone is the same before a humble carpenter that once said “Love each other and do not hate each other!"
In December, JC provided this update to an FFI volunteer:
Since being deported to El Salvador, I have been making my way north, going through Guatemala and eventually reaching Mexico, where I am currently residing and looking for jobs. My wife and children were threatened with deportation and coerced into opting for voluntary departure. I plan to reunite with my family in El Salvador before continuing our journey to try to immigrate North, given that staying in El Salvador would be too dangerous and danger is imminent.
The U.S. government does not consider people's lives in sending them back to their doom and people are treated like delinquents simply for being from a different country or having a different skin color. When I was deported, I was handcuffed throughout the flight that he shared with other people who were also being deported (including children) and they were all handcuffed. They were only uncuffed once the plane landed. I have blood pressure and heart problems and nobody cared for my or anyone else's health during this trip, or even the children's well-being who were also handcuffed the whole time.
I am grateful to Freedom for Immigrants for giving attention to my story (particularly Margaret Brown Vega). There are currently many immigrants from Uganda, Haita, Cuba, Costa de Marfil, and Central America who need some guidance and I would like to do what I can to assist other people. I am really passionate about this and wants to share my experience as well as my knowledge with others going through similar situations.
Cover art by Anthony Miranda Sanchez, currently detained at Northwest Detention Center.
*JC wishes to remain anonymous for privacy reasons