PAUL BUTLER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 6th of October, 2022.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Paul Butler.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. First up on The World and Everything in It. Immigration.
The governors of Arizona and Texas have bused thousands of asylum-seekers to Washington, New York, and Chicago. The governors say the current influx of migrants at the U.S. Southern border is overwhelming their states. So they are sending them to cities better equipped to help them and to lobby the federal government for aid.
BUTLER: WORLD Washington reporter Leo Briceno interviewed some of those migrants to see how they are doing. He also reports on the next steps in their immigration journey.
LEO BRICENO, REPORTER: Sarai Landaeta lives in a Day’s Inn hotel room in North-Western Washington D.C. As a recent immigrant from Venezuela, she doesn’t speak English and doesn’t know where that is.
She asked if I could draw a map of the city.
AUDIO: [HOTEL CHATTER]
The hotel has become home to a community of immigrants. Dozens of women, children, and men like Landeata all crossed over into the United States from the Southern Border. But they didn’t get here to Washington, D.C. on their own; they had a little help from the State of Texas.
ABBOTT: Sending them to cities on the east coast…
Like thousands of others, shortly after crossing the southern border, an exhausted Landaeta accepted a free bus ride from the State of Texas without a clear idea of where it was going or why.
I interviewed Landaeta and two other women about why they accepted a bus ride into the heart of a country they don’t know. They said they had left Venezuela to escape deteriorating social and economic conditions. Work was hard to find. The time between meals was growing longer. They wanted to come to the U.S. where they knew they would find safety.
Landaeta made the journey with her husband. She is six months pregnant with her first child. They traveled on foot through countries like Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Mexico to escape worsening social and economic conditions in Venezuela.
AUDIO: “What was the hardest part?” - “The jungle”
All three of the women agreed. The hardest part of that journey was their time in the jungle.
One of the women, Natasha Guterres, told me she saw a bit of everything. Discarded clothes, people left behind, and bodies of those who had died along the way.
AUDIO: “There you see dead people…”
By day, the women had to struggle against exhaustion, dehydration, hunger, and the dangers of fellow travelers. By night, the struggle was keeping warm and finding a safe place to sleep in the brush.
AUDIO: "When night fell it was dark. You could hear lions and monkeys screaming in the night…”
Guterres said she remembers hearing things in the night, calls of animals.
Landaeta remembers seeing a man die as he was crossing the river into the U.S. He suffered so much only to have his journey end right on the verge of his goal.
AUDIO: "How old are you?”
I asked how old she is.
AUDIO: “I’m 19 years old”
Nineteen she tells me. She was 18 when she started the trip.
As brutal as the road has been, the journey isn’t over. The next leg of the journey will take place in immigration court as she applies for political asylum.
FULKS: “Can take 2 - 10 years.”
That’s Scott Andrew Fulks, an immigration attorney for Deckert Law Firm in Minnesota. The process starts with the application. And that is something that trips up immigrants on a regular basis.
It begins when border-crossers are taken into custody by immigration services. They undergo a “credible fear” test to determine whether they have a plausible reason for remaining in the U.S. … as opposed to being turned away. The bar is usually fairly low—fear of general safety, for example, or fear of lack of resources. If they pass, they may enter the United States with a set of instructions for how to start the asylum process.
FULKS: “What’s incredibly important is that anyone who is desirous of applying for asylum must do so within one year of having entered the country. More than 80-90% of new clients have never been told this or have never understood this.”
The busing situation may add a level of difficulty to that undertaking. Specifically, Fulks says that if Landaeta and other immigrants began their legal journey in Texas, they have to take the necessary steps to make sure that it continues in Washington, D.C., New York, or elsewhere.
FULKS: “As a part of their processing they're given a packet of information. Part of that packet is a change of address form called EOIR-33/IC, [Immigrants should] file that form with the court and also a motion to change venue.”
Due to backed up asylum requests, scheduling difficulties, a lack of proper representation, and other factors, starting an application for asylum can take months. That means that immigrants have less of a window before they run up against their one-year deadline, which can quickly shrink their chances of a successful bid.
Landaeta knows she is here for asylum, but she doesn’t have a clear idea of how she’s going to achieve it. Right now she’s focused on her pregnancy.
The three women are grateful that they’re at least in the U.S.
AUDIO: “I never imagined I would be in a country like this… thank God I’m in a country like this.”
Guterres says she’s just thankful to be in a country like this.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leo Briceno.
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