Young mothers from Central America pin their hopes on the American dream

Paul HANDLEY
·4-min read

Amanda Garcia struggles to hold back her tears. After 30 days on the road, waiting in this Texas border town for a bus to Dallas, she is just hours from her goal -- a better life in the United States.

Like many migrants trekking from Central America toward the US, Garcia says life in her native Guatemala takes place under a constant threat of violence.

Sitting with an energetic five year old boy and 10 month old infant son in the Brownsville bus depot, she said it is the opportunities in the United States that are the main thing that have brought her here.

At 22, she said, she couldn't get a job and her children's father didn't support them.

"I wanted to get ahead, and to show those people who told me that, with two children, I couldn't."

Garcia, 22, has relatives a half-day's drive to the north, and although she doesn't know what she will do in Dallas, she's sure it will be better than nothing.

After crossing the border illegally, she has been given papers by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) that will allow her and her two children to stay for the moment, and to find work.

"For me, it is a joy, that they have opened a door for me to get ahead."

- 'Any kind of work' -

Garcia was one of dozens of migrant families who pass through the Brownsville depot daily, nearly all women with small children, telling the same story.

Each made their way north through Mexico for the hope of a job in the United States -- a job often on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, but better than anything back home.

And they were leaving behind endemic violence, from "delinquents and narco-traffickers," as one said.

Eva Maria Polanco, 25, was headed to Houston where she has in-laws, or maybe Indiana, where a sister lives.

"Here you can do any kind of work, whereas in Honduras there is no work at all. Life is really hard," she said.

She and her two-year-old daughter spent one month on the road to the United States, by bus and even hitchhiking.

"Sometimes we had to sleep outside... I didn't bring a lot of money," she said.

People shared food with them, and at the US border people helped them cross the Rio Grande river without demanding money.

Once across, they were detained by the US Customs and Border Patrol.

The CBP never asked why she came but simply took her personal details and gave her documents allowing her to stay and work at least temporarily, with a commitment to report to authorities wherever she ends up.

- Biden 'helped a lot' -

Like others, Polanco said the decision to come was helped by President Joe Biden's easing of predecessor Donald Trump's harsh clampdown on immigration.

"Truthfully, that has helped a lot," she said. "If I had come earlier, it wouldn't have worked."

And while the Biden administration is sending back individual adults who cross the frontier illegally, the women in the Brownsville depot all seemed to understand that with very small children in tow, they would get to stay.

The consequence, though, has been a migrant increase that is taxing the government.

"No end in sight as large groups continue entering" the Rio Grande Valley area of Southeast Texas, the regional CBP chief said Wednesday on Twitter after detaining 369 border crossers, mostly in families, over the previous 48 hours.

- Gang threats -

Some of the women passing through Brownsville were headed to meet husbands already in the United States.

Luvia Tabora, 25, said that after Biden became president, her husband in Virginia told her it was a good time to come.

Others though were separated from family members, like Jilsa Revolorio, who was going to Colorado where her cousin lives, hoping to work in a restaurant.

She carried her daughter Camilla, 2, but left three other children behind with her mother.

In Guatemala she was a street vendor who faced constant extortion by gangs. They always want more, she said.

"Then, if you can't pay, you have to flee because your life is in danger."

- Good Samaritans -

They all said it was a difficult journey to the US. But they said they enjoyed the help of good Samaritans on both sides of the border.

Once across, volunteer groups in Brownsville deliver meals, fresh clothing and toys for the children to help them onward.

They also get Covid tests in the bus station. For the seven percent who have tested positive, there is a free hotel room -- paid for by donations -- in which to quarantine before traveling on.

Daniela Sosa, a manager at the Good Neighbor Settlement House, a homeless shelter, said they have been feeding migrants for several years; the current flow isn't as big as two years ago and they were ready for it.

A few blocks from the bus station, volunteers were packing dozens of box lunches and toiletry bags for the families.

"They are only going to be here one, two days while they are making their flight arrangements, their bus arrangements," she said.

"That's why we are a respite" for them.

pmh/caw