ICE had removed their shoelaces as a safety precaution, so their shoe tongues flapped open as they walked.
Instead of smartphones and AirPods, they wore electronic tracking bracelets to make sure they wouldn’t miss their court dates and disappear illegally into the United States.
They spoke to the Boiling Point in Spanish, and their answers were translated into English by former Shalhevet receptionist Daniella Silva. At the request of Arizona Jews for Justice, migrants’ last names have been omitted for their protection.
Edson, age 17
Wearing a grey-brown t-shirt and grey slacks, Edson Edson came off the bus with his mother, who was wearing an Aeropostale plaid zip-up jacket, immigration papers in hand. They both smiled brightly at the volunteers who welcomed them.
An only child, Edson had traveled for eight days from Guatemala, mainly on public buses. He described his journey as difficult, cold and tiring, and said he did not sleep much.
“The worst part was in the way we traveled,” Edson said. “There were a lot of dry, dusty roads. There were so many roads that we could not sleep.”
Once they reached the border, they were put in a detention center where they stayed for about two days.
“When we were taken by ICE,” Edson said, “they told us that we were not allowed to have shoelaces or belts. They told us to take off our laces and throw them away. They asked us to put all belts away in our backpacks.”
He is okay with this practice, as he understands it is done “as a precaution to avoid any incidents occurring or, anything negative happening, anything bad.”
Edson likes listening to “trap” music, a form of hip-hop with influences from dubstep and rap. His favorite singer is Kontra Marín, a Guatemalan 26-year-old rapper. He also plays sports and boxes.
Back at home, he went to school during the week and worked on Sundays. A serious student, his coursework included math, practical mathematics, biology, pedagogy, psychopedagogy, and physical education, he said. He had one year left to graduate when he left home.
None of his subjects were difficult for him, he said.
“They teach well,” Edson said of his teachers back home. “They don’t make things hard. You understand what they say, what they explain.”
On Sundays he worked many jobs.
“I was a driver, I drove — I also worked in the fields,” he said. “I cleaned houses. I painted houses…I also took care of pets. I would take them for their walks. I would wash them.”
He said that he left Guatemala because of safety, economic and educational factors.
“Over there, there is a lot of crime, a lot of delinquency,” he said, “There are no jobs. It is very dangerous. It is difficult to stay in school.”
He left his best friend, Dennis, behind in Guatemala. And when he got to Mexico, officials confiscated his smartphone.
“They told us that they did this so no one would extort us,” Edson said. “I deleted everything that was on the phone, and then I gave it to them. It was an Alcatel phone. It was small.”
Like many of the arrivees that day, Edson is an Evangelical Christian. He said religion “is a way of being fine with oneself. And it guides you down a good path.”
He said ICE agents were friendly to him.
“If you do not follow their instructions, then they do get angry,” he said. “But if you listen to them, if you follow their instructions, then they treat you well.”
“It also depends on the people,” he added. “They do not treat everyone in the same manner.”
Agents did not tell the travelers that they were being released, so Edson didn’t know he where was going and he was surprised by the welcome.
He said that he and his mother were heading to Nashville, Tenn. to stay with a friend also from Guatemala. He said his goal is to finish high school and then work, doing “whatever I could find.”
Although other countries, like Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, are closer to his hometown, he said of the U.S.: “Here one can find their opportunity to study, to succeed.”
Elmi, age 14
Wearing blue jeans and brown boots, Elmi stepped off the bus with her father and older sister. She came from Guatemala and had traveled with them and about 20 others.
“It was very tiring,” Elmi said of her journey to the U.S. border. “It was cold throughout the whole ride. There was also not that much food.”
“The worst part was when we were picked up by immigration services,” she said. The ICE agents seemed angry,” she said, “but they did not mistreat us.”
Elmi came from a small village and had to leave school at a young age and go to work.
“In the village there were not very many resources,” she said. “So, that obligated my sister and me to leave the village and find work in the city.”
“But the work was hard and they treated us badly,” she continued. “We wanted to have a better life… I heard that here there are better opportunities. People have more opportunities to overcome and succeed. We have seen people who come from the U.S. back home and God bless them, because we see how their lives have gotten better.”
She said that she plans to go to school to study and would also “like to find work here.”
Unlike Edson, she didn’t have to leave her best friend back at home, so she brought her best friend with her: her sister.
“She’s my best friend, my best sister,” she said, laughing.
Elmi loves listening to Christian music; her favorite singers are Marcela Gándara and Mariolita Gonzalez. An Evangelical Christian, she has had a strong belief in God ever since her mother took her to church five years ago.
But she believes God loves members of other religions, too.
“I think God does not have exceptions for anyone,” she said of other religions. “God loves us all equally. Simply having a certain type of religion changes nothing.”