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March 21, 2018

Crossing the Line: Jose's Story

By Lara Mnaymneh

Jose is from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he lived with his wife and three children. Life was seemingly normal until la Mara Salvatrucha, one of the most violent gangs in Central America, came for Jose’s son. 

Gang members demanded Jose hand over his son to become one of their soldiers. Jose refused, so armed men began to target them at home and at work – they were held at gunpoint and were told they would be killed if they tried to involve the authorities. The gang was also extorting Jose until he could no longer afford to pay them. That’s when la Mara Salvatrucha gave Jose a choice: hand over your son or run. They had 24 hours to disappear or he would find his son’s dead body in a bag. 

And so, with the help of his family, Jose paid a coyote to help him and his son get to the United States. Their long journey took them from Honduras to Guatemala to Mexico, and at each point, they were required to pay off bus drivers, immigration officers, and even the authorities so that they could pass through.

"One comes seeking a dream here, and often, people here don't understand what life is like on the other side. 

There are things that are seen, on the border… and one wants to help, but you can’t because we’re all saving our own skin, and our children’s. You see women being raped... Sons, taken from the car with the father there, and you just know that those people are not coming back. 

Our country isn't safe. It isn't a country of opportunities. It isn't a country where you can't walk free… You don't know if you'll return home." 

For Jose and his son, Mexico proved to be the most difficult and dangerous part of the journey: they spent days crammed into crates on the back of trailers to pass through government checkpoints; went days without eating because they no longer had the money to pay for food; and were caught in the crosshairs of a gunfight between the military and Los Zetas, known to be the most ruthless cartel in Mexico. 

In Los Zetas territory, Jose and his son had to pay the cartel for safe passage. With no money left, they had to wait several days until their family was able to pay for their release. They finally crossed the Rio Bravo in an inflatable raft and presented at the port of entry in McAllen, Texas to request asylum in the United States. 

Their nightmare had finally come to an end. For the first time in 23 days, Jose felt safe. He and his son were processed for asylum and are now waiting for a judge to hear their case.

Learn more: crossingtheline.humanrightsfirst.org