A Nicaraguan Migrant Family that Had To Turn Back

Photo taken by Yorlene Robleto while crossing the border from El Salvador into Guatemala.

“We slept in the street, cold and hungry.” Yorlene Robleto and her family were marooned in Mexico when the US abruptly changed their immigration policies last January. They were forced to return to Nicaragua.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – The day that Yorlene Robleto, 23, left her house in Managua with her mother-in-law, her daughter, and four other women from her family, she felt sure she’d arrive safely in the United States. One month previously, her husband and father-in-law had followed the same route, and had crossed the border with no major problems. Now they were in New York, hoping to reunite there with the rest of the family. Days before leaving, Yorlene had decided to the borrow the money they needed for the trip, using their house as collateral.

When Yorlene and her family left Nicaragua on December 12, 2022, Nicaraguan migrants who crossed the US – Mexican border and asked for asylum were being allowed to stay while their requests were processed. During that year, 2022, according to official statistics, over 200,000 Nicaraguans crossed the border.

Yorlene Robleto and her family were traveling without a coyote (guide). “My husband and father-in-law made the trip that way, and they arrived well,” she explains. Their party included herself, her mother-in-law, her five-year-old daughter and four other women, all relatives of hers. They went from Managua to Chinandega, and from there crossed into El Salvador. A loan shark had fronted them $8,200 dollars, with the house as collateral. However, instead of carrying this money with them, family members that stayed behind had agreed to send small sums to them little by little, according to their needs.

Boarding bus after bus, they reached the Guatemalan border on December 14th. Up until that point, they’d had no difficulties. However, when they got down from the bus at the border, a group of coyotes approached them to offer their services – for US $500, they’d smuggle them all into Guatemala. The agreement was to pay once they reached the other side.

“Wherever we walked, we ended up in the same place. A kid on a motorcycle went first, with us following behind, but in the end, he left us by the wayside,” Yorlene says. A woman and a man then helped them, and they contracted with another coyote, this time for US $400. They crossed a river. “The coyote was carrying my little girl and my niece, and I was behind them, but we reached a point where the water nearly covered me. I froze in shock, there in the middle of the river, because my legs wouldn’t respond. Then I began to jump, and that’s how I managed to cross,” she recalls.

Once on Guatemalan territory, a soldier stopped them. “He took my cellphone, searched us and interrogated us, threatening to deport us.” Five hours later, the man let them go. Later, they were detained by the police, and had to pay a bribe of US $100 before finally reaching Guatemala City.

After that, they took an 8-hour bus ride to the Mexican border, where they ate and changed their clothing.  A taxi driver then picked them up and took them to a house in a neighborhood where they were to meet a woman named Roxy, who’d been recommended by some other relatives. In theory, Roxy would get them to Tapachula. However, when they got to her house, on December 15, they were held there until January 2nd. “She charged us money to buy food, she threatened to leave us out on the street,” Yorlene recalls. They spent the time shut inside, without being allowed to leave. That’s how they spent Christmas and New Year’s, shut up inside.

On January 2, Robleto and her family finally managed to leave the house and cross the border from Guatemala into Mexico, on an improvised zipline. They reached the Tapachula park on January 5 and turned themselves in to the Mexican authorities. They spent one day at the Siglo XXI [“21st Century”] immigration office. But by January 6, the day they were released, the US immigration policy had changed. The US – Mexican border was now closed to Nicaraguans.

“If you’re trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua, or Haiti, or have already begun your journey to America, do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” Biden announced.

The US government had tightened the restrictions on those trying to cross the border from Mexico. “These measures will broaden and hasten the legal pathways to an orderly immigration and will have new consequences for those who don’t use the legal pathways,” the White House assured. In exchange, the Biden administration agreed to allow the entry of 30,000 immigrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, and Haiti a month. However, to take advantage of this new plan, the migrants had to have an economic sponsor who was living legally in the United States, as well as completing other requirements.

The new measures went into effect immediately, thus taking Robleto and her family by surprise. They were left with no possibility of entering the US. When they saw the information on social media, they couldn’t completely understand what was going on.

“We were all left confused, uncertain; we felt trapped, with our backs against the wall. We thought of all the time we’d lost when we were held up in Mexico, and we began to fight amongst ourselves because we were frustrated. There were people who assured us that, yes, this was really happening, but others said it wasn’t,” Yorlene tells us.

“Sadness invaded us, depression. We were afraid. We wanted to move ahead, but they said they were raping the women, or kidnapping them,” she continues. On January 16, she, her mother-in-law and her daughter began the return trip to Nicaragua. They’d spent a few nights sleeping on the street. “We slept in the street, cold and hungry, and surrounded by a ton of migrants. It was sad to see all that.” They paid another US $300 to return to Guatemala by bus and stayed in a hotel there. Her husband had already sent an additional 200 dollars so they could travel from Guatemala to Managua. They arrived back there on January 19.

Yorlene Robleto returned to Managua and to her work as a manicurist to help with the household expenses. They still have to pay back their debt in order not to lose their home – the house they put up as collateral for an $8,200 loan to reach the United States.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times

4 thoughts on “A Nicaraguan Migrant Family that Had To Turn Back

  • April 19, 2023 at 6:10 pm

    What a horrible reality they had to live through, it is so sad and heartbreaking not to have been able to fulfill the original objective.

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