By Alvaro Blanco
Miami, Mar 28 (EFE).- The routes that Venezuelan migrants are using to reach American soil have changed dramatically.
Whereas most used to travel comfortably by plane, thousands now are arriving every month across the ever-dangerous United States-Mexico border and run the risk of being victims of assault or rape or even losing their lives in the process.
Rene Ravelo recently made his way to Doral – a city in Miami-Dade County, Florida, nicknamed “Doralzuela” because of its large number of Venezuelan migrants – by land on routes that until recently were almost exclusively used by Mexicans and Central Americans.
The young man paid $4,000 to a people smuggler to help him cross the Rio Grande into the southeastern US. He made the trip at night and then walked nearly two hours until being intercepted by US immigration authorities.
Maria Ramirez, a native of Maracaibo, also crossed the Rio Grande after paying a smuggler.
She told Efe she was afraid during her attempt to cross the river, especially when forced to run to avoid being detained by Mexican immigration agents and deported back to her homeland.
Patricia Andrade, head of the Raices program that helps Venezuelans who successfully reach Miami, said there has been a notable increase in migrants who have crossed the US-Mexico border.
The monthly figures back her up.
Whereas just over 200 Venezuelans were intercepted at the US’s southeast border in December 2020, according to official figures, that figure had skyrocketed a year later to 24,805. In January of this year, the number was nearly unchanged at 22,779, about half of whom were members of families traveling with minors.
A TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE
“Many arrive with a lot of emotional damage due to all the dangers they face, because we know the smugglers are people who are trafficking with human beings and for them a person is a commodity. So they can (be victims of) rapes, kidnappings, threats, extortion … and that has a powerful emotional impact,” she told Efe.
Some of the women who have arrived at her center have told of being raped, including in front of their children, or of attempts by smugglers to kidnap their kids.
Raices, which currently gives away clothing and other basic items to these recent arrivals, is looking to do more to address those traumas and soon will offer psychological assistance and recommend long-term therapy for some of these individuals.
And even those who have not suffered a traumatic experience must start from zero in a new country, many of them after having been locked up with other undocumented migrants in immigration detention facilities.
Maria Milagros Perez crossed the border at Mexicali, Mexico, along with her eight-year-old son Joseph Santiago. Although she arrived in Miami three months ago, she said she still cries virtually every day.
“The trip was traumatic because you suffer a lot. The change isn’t easy. There are so many things you leave behind,” said the woman, who is having a hard time making ends meet even after finding work as a cleaner.
In Venezuela, she worked 15 years in banking and then had her own food business, but she said she left her homeland, which has been in a downward spiral for years, for the chance to give her son a better “quality of life” in the US.
SUPPORT OF THE VENEZUELAN COMMUNITY
Ravelo traveled to the US to meet up with his wife, Zayra Mendoza, now 33 weeks pregnant. She was fortunate enough to have a visa and was able to travel to that country by plane via the Dominican Republic.