The story is dramatic. “I am writing to ask for your help. My brother was taken by the river, ”reads a message on social networks published in the early hours of Good Friday. She was the sister of Jonathan Egidio Betancourt Arenas, a 34-year-old Colombian who tried to enter the United States through the southern border. Hours later, his lifeless body was recovered after appearing floating on the Rio Grande.
(Read: Colombia breaks record for illegal migration to the United States)
His family did not know of his decision. She had planned for two months to try to cross to seek the ‘American dream’, meet friends and family who live in the North American country, and have a different job than the one she had in Villavicencio, where she lived. It was a project that she had pondered for some time.
He did not travel alone. His wife and his 7-year-old daughter accompanied him. The three were looking to enter. The woman was the one who told what had happened. “Jonathan’s mom got a call. She told him that he had sunk, that they were trying to get through, but he couldn’t.”a person close to the family told this newspaper.
They had traveled to Mexico City on Sunday, April 10, as confirmed by two sources. From there, they went to the border, in Coahuila (Mexico), in a bus with more foreigners. There were Cubans and Puerto Ricans. It is not clear which city they arrived at: some report that it would have been Monclova.
(Read: Death in the ‘hole’: the tragedy of Bogota crossing the US border)
The following Tuesday, April 12, would have been the day they set out for the United States. The ‘coyote’ told them which routes they could take, but he did not accompany them. “He disappeared when they were going to cross,” says a source. Among the versions of the story known by EL TIEMPO there is a point where they coincide: apparently they were alone and not in a group.
It was learned that at the time they found the Rio Grande – Rio Grande, as it is known in the US – they tried to find an area that looked ‘easy’ to cross what many experts have considered a ‘death trap’ . Jonathan decided to go first with his daughter on his shoulders. “He managed to drop the girl near the shore, but she sank. His wife saw from the other side and jumped in to swim, ”says a relative.
(See: Dying in the desert in search of the ‘American dream’)
The woman barely made it across the river. He went to the side where her husband was to see if she could do anything, but it was difficult. Despair was high. She didn’t see the man as he tried to keep his head above the water. “Apparently Jonathan was still alive and helped her as he could to get through,” says the relative.
She managed to go out and see her daughter. But he couldn’t get out. Everything was silent. Tears, adrenaline, tiredness. A mixture of emotions took over the body of the two women. They had seen her loved one disappear into the current. They tried to locate him, but it was impossible.
Soon after, a United States border patrol intercepted them. They were taken to a holding center and questioned. The woman would have been able to contact relatives in Colombia and she told them what happened. On Friday, April 15, after the sister’s messages, a person published on Facebook a photograph of a body with a black shirt, jeans and blue shoes, which had been recovered near Acuña, in the state of Coahuila (Mexico). . Immediately, in the comments, users confirmed that it corresponded to Jonathan Betancourt.
It is known that of the three members of the family, two had tourist visas. But they had not wanted to separate, so they decided to try to pass together. The women said they had relatives in the country and were able to contact them. Apparently, they were picked up in the following days and were able to leave the place.
This is one of the many cases that are reported daily of migrants who die trying to enter the United States irregularly. In social networks, photographs of the bodies of children, women and men, of various nationalities -especially Latin Americans- are known. The scene in this place is second to none. They were people longing for a new life in a country that has promised opportunity for decades.
(Also: ‘El Hueco’ towards the United States, more dangerous than ever)
Jonathan’s story is another of the tragic stories of Colombians in this situation. EL TIEMPO has recorded at least two more in recent months: the death of Claudia Marcela Pineda and her daughter in the Arizona desert, and that of Juan Rivera, a Bogota native who fell from a nine-meter wall on the border.
They are part of the deadly list of illegal migration to that country. Colombia broke a record in March, after the authorities detained 15,144 people on the southern border, something exceptional in recent history.
Pass, no matter the cost
The commercial idea of the ‘American dream’, which has been sold for a long time, added to the voice of people who have managed to enter the United States to make money in any type of work, has made the business behind it maintain and expand in recent years.
They charged me $2,500 for the ‘passage’ as such and the uber to the border
Although the phenomenon was reduced with the pandemic, in these times of reactivation it seems that the curve of attempts is increasing. EL TIEMPO learned of several cases of Colombians who have entered through various modalities. The most common: cross the border and ask for asylum.
“I passed with a contact from a distant aunt. They charged me 2,500 dollars for the ‘passage’ as such and the uber to the border, but that way fell through, ”says a source. “I had to cross the border and walk there, walk and walk. Then one went into a casino and a car picked me up there. You didn’t have to go through Immigration or anything. They already knew who he was,” she says.
This modality, according to the person, is no longer so accessible. “Now they charge 1,000 dollars to go through and turn themselves in to Immigration”, he points out. “You must be aware that they can hold you for one, two weeks, a month or more. Before they insist that they say that they are going to kill them to start the asylum process, ”says another source who knows closely the migration stories of several Colombians.
The latter coincides with other cases, such as that of a young Colombian who did not pay ‘coyote’, came to Tijuana and preferred to ask how it was that he crossed illegally into the United States. “He turned himself in to the police and spent 45 days in jail. They released him. He is now in this country, ”says the source.
And it is that if the objective is to cross the border, for many it does not matter how many times you try. A Colombian arrived in Cancun and then took a flight to Mexicali, but was stopped at the airport. They held her and sent her to the border with Guatemala. She there she met other Colombians and they returned to Mexicali. “He went through the ‘hole’. She spent two days in a migrant shelter. He requested asylum and gave the details of where he was going to stay, because that is what they request for the process. He was sent to a city in Texas”assures another person contacted by this newspaper.
But this is not the only way to migrate. Many Colombians, for decades, have managed to enter the United States legally with their tourist visa, but choose to stay in the country beyond the regulated period. “It doesn’t matter, here I earn more because I have several jobs and they pay me by the hour. I have much more income than I had in Colombia”, says a Colombian. “I arrived before the pandemic and I am still here. They are more operational jobs, but I can even afford to send them to my family in Colombia”, he says.
These forms of entry are not exclusive to Colombians. Thousands of foreigners try to cross daily to the country that for years was considered as the one with ‘open doors’. It is not something new and has been recorded by the media and the film industry. The financial burden of their native countries and the promises, often utopian, motivate people to make the decision to enter and seek other opportunities. However, the risk is high: migrating illegally can take the life you seek to change.
DAVID ALEJANDRO LOPEZ BERMUDEZ
Multimedia Reporting Journalist
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