© 2024 WNIJ and WNIU
Northern Public Radio
801 N 1st St.
DeKalb, IL 60115
Northern Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Return to Hola

Migrants are relieved after dangerous trip and look ahead with hope and uncertainty

Andrianger, 10, his dad Andri, and seven year old brother Damian eat at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Maria Gardner Lara
Andrianger, 10, his dad Andri, and seven year old brother Damian eat at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

Leer en español

Migrants continue to come from sectors of Latin America to the US, including Illinois, seeking a better life and refuge from violence and economic instability. Along their journey, some migrant families may find support at a respite center run by Catholic Charities of Rio Grande Valley in the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexican border.

Jhonnelys sat in the dining area with her one-year-old daughter on her lap in a center located in McAllen, TX.

They arrived several hours ago after immigration officials granted them permission to stay in the US on humanitarian grounds, allowing them to seek asylum.

“I have to work on her behalf, build a better quality of life, so many things,” Jhonnelys said.

“I mean the truth is that in Venezuela I can’t,” she added. “And so, we made the decision to take the risk, and believe me, it’s a risk.”

She’s among the seven million people who have left Venezuela over the last decade. That’s nearly a quarter of its population, according to Andreas E. Feldmann, Associate Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program and the Department of Political Science.

“I think that the region in general is undergoing probably the worst crisis in 100 years,” Feldmann said. “And then Venezuela in particular, is undergoing, I mean, a crisis of humanitarian proportions.”

Jhonnelys said she left Venezuela several years ago and settled in Peru, but said anti-Venezuelan sentiment made it difficult to find formal work there.

Feldmann said migrants face xenophobia in neighboring countries, ranging from subtle discrimination in accessing education and healthcare to violent hostility.

The Venezuelan native said the travel overland to the U.S. took nearly four months. It included crossing the roadless Darien Gap. The dense forest lying between Colombia and Panama is considered dangerous for its topography as well as for the organized crime migrants may encounter.

Their journey continued onto Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

She said for over a month they lived on the street in Mexico at the border until she received an appointment with US immigration officials. When WNIJ spoke with her, she said she was awaiting her brother who made the journey with her. She said he had his appointment with officials the following day.

After the challenging journey, she said she was surprised at her own courage.

“I didn’t realize how strong I was, you know,” she said. “And the situation proved to me that I have an incredible strength and I’m not sure if my daughter is the cause of this.”

Several tables down from Jhonnelys and her daughter sat 10-year-old Adrianger eating alongside his dad and little brother Damian.

"The journey was incredibly difficult, but now I’m very happy,” Adrianger said. “We had to go through a forest, but here I am standing, thanks be to God.”

His father Andri said he made the decision to leave Venezuela out of concern for his children’s education and for a better quality of life.

“If you eat breakfast, you don’t have lunch,” Andri said. “If you have lunch, you don’t have dinner. If you have dinner, you don’t have breakfast the following day.”

Feldmann said it’s the lack of economic opportunities, rampant crime and no prospects for the future that drives people to leave, not just Venezuela, but Nicaragua, Haiti and countries throughout the region.

“So, I think that societies have become more violent, more restless, and we lack ideas going forward,” Feldmann said. “So, the situation is very dire.”

He said U.S. policy towards Latin America is one of indifference.

“The U.S. is trying to, in a way, be shielded from what's going on in Latin America,” Feldmann said. “I think that it's taking a very selfish approach.”

He adds that he’s not surprised by this policy toward the region, since historically the U.S. acts according to its own interest.

Among the visitors to the center were two little girls with twists in their hair standing around watching people pass by. They may have been Haitian but because of the language barrier this WNIJ reporter was unable to chat with them.

The center takes families in for 24 hours -- enough time to rest and shower before their next destination, explained the volunteer coordinator, Clarisa.

“I think it's important for us to receive them with open arms and just restore that human dignity that they have been lacking,” she said, “because we know that they've been traveling through very just hard situations.”

Next Move

Next, Andri said, they’re heading to Miami. He has legal permission to travel in the US and enroll his children in school but doesn’t have authorization to work. He said he’s unsure about the steps to gain a work visa.

“Oh, Dear God, honestly, I don’t know,” Andri said. “We’re in limbo, at the moment. “

He said what he doesn’t want to be is a burden. He said a common Venezuelan saying goes that the dead start to smell after three days.

At the very least, he said, he wants to be able to provide enough for his boys.

Copyright 2023 WNIJ Northern Public Radio

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.