The United States holds many possibilities. It’s a place that offers asylum, job opportunities, and freedom. These are the factors that pull people from countries around the world to the US. These factors pulled Veronica Aguilar from her home in San Salvador, El Salvador to the US. On December 11, Aguilar spoke at Berkeley High School (BHS) about how she was driven out of her home country by gang activity. Gangs would come to her house, threaten to kill her, and point guns directly at her head. Aguilar escaped her neighborhood hoping for a better life for herself and her family, but the violence followed her.
Finally, she went to Tijuana, Mexico to seek asylum, and while there, she heard about a caravan. So, from October 9 to November 12 in 2017, Aguilar made the treacherous journey across the border in the caravan. “It was one of the hardest things I had to do,” she said. Once Aguilar arrived in the US, she was detained for seven months and was only able to talk to her family three times. Right now, Aguilar has an asylum case pending in US courts.
Aguilar’s 18-year-old son also left El Salvador. Aguilar noticed that gangs were trying to recruit her son and, in order to escape the violence, he needed to leave El Salvador. She had heard about a departing caravan and put her son on it. Aguilar’s mother accompanied then her son to the border. They had a long, uncomfortable trip on foot with no food or water. Once they arrived at the border, Aguilar’s mother returned to El Salvador. “My mother’s my superhero,” Aguilar said.
However, her son’s journey was unsuccessful and he is currently incarcerated in Mexico. Aguilar recently saw a video of Mexican vendors beating a teenager, and all she could think was, “This could have been my son.” During the presentation, she broke into tears when multiple people in the audience told her that they hope her son is released soon. Aguilar’s 15-year-old daughter is still in El Salvador, and if she ever had to leave Central America, Aguilar would not want her to go with a caravan because of the awful process she would have to endure.
Carlos Martinez, a Ph.D. student of Medical Anthropology at the University of California (UC) Berkeley and UC San Francisco, also spoke at the presentation about the US’s law of asylum. This law allows people to migrate to the US if they have a legitimate reason. However, the Trump administration is trying to revoke this law.
This means that countless migrants, like Aguilar’s son, searching for a safer life will be forced to stay in dangerous situations in their home countries. Many of these dangers, according to Martinez, originated from the US meddling in Central America’s politics.
Kai Rapoza is a BHS sophomore, and he agrees with Martinez. “The US government is part of the reason that Mexico and other Central American countries are in upheaval,” said Rapoza. “I think if we can get governments to cooperate and have Trump send help to the border instead of harm, and build bridges and not walls, we’d be better off as a species.”
Efforts have been made in an attempt to end the problems connected to migrating to the US, but new policies prioritize government interest over the lives and well-being of people at the border. “I don’t think there’s going to be a solution that pleases everyone, but I also think our government’s current solutions aren’t the right solution and are hurting too many people,” said BHS sophomore Lizzie Gentry. She continued, “I can’t imagine being so desperate that [the caravan] journey is the best option.”
Disputes over border control continue to affect thousands of families, but how can BHS students help? Aguilar and Martinez recommended donating money to the organization Al Otro Lado (The Other Side). This organization offers migrants free legal work and helps families become reunited when US authorities deem that a child should live with their parent in Mexico. Another organization that supports migrants is Pueblo Sin Fronteras. Aguilar is on the international coordinating body for Pueblo Sin Fronteras. Aguilar also said that writing letters brings hope to people who are detained.
Life for many migrants in their home countries is unbearable, and the journey to the US to seek asylum can be dangerous. Traveling in caravans can be one of the safest ways to cross the border. Nevertheless, women like Aguilar have to take enormous risks to find a better life.