Woman flees kidnappers; must prove to U.S. Immigration that her life was at risk
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
The demand was clear: Hand over $8,000 or the entire family would be “disappeared” or slaughtered -- one implying the other.
Corina was a teenager living in a rural region of Guatemala at the time. Although settled amongst the ranch country of the Central American nation, Corina and her family were far from impervious to the demands of kidnappers, who preyed on families – especially those with relatives living in the United States.
“They knew my parents and aunts and uncles were here, and that they could get the money together,” Corina said.
Did they pay?
“Yes,” Corina said. “They did send it so that we would be safe.”
The threats did not end with the delivery of the $8,000 that her relatives were able to scrape together. Less than a year later, a note was slipped under their door. The gang or cartel members demanded $25,000.
“If they didn’t get it, they warned us they would kidnap me and my grandparents,” Corina said.
There was no possibility that the family could raise such an amount. So, Corina, her grandparents and four cousins packed up their belongings and moved from the home they had known for many years. Although they settled six hours away, the threats continued to haunt them. A neighbor Corina’s age was kidnapped and ransomed for several thousand dollars.
“They have enough power over you to demand the money,” Corina said matter-of-factly.
Now 23, Corina arrived in the United States last year. Her father had left Guatamala when she was still a toddler; her mother exited the country when Corina was only seven.
When the family made the decision to escape their homeland, they quickly realized that they would have to raise a small fortune to do so. Corina’s father would go first and then work to earn the money for his wife to come later. His daughter would stay with her grandparents until she was at an age when she could make the journey.
It was a heart-rending decision with no assurance of a positive outcome.
Cornia wouldn’t see her father for more than 20 years, and her mother for 16 years.
Sitting next to Corina in the chapel that she chose for the interview with the Register was her 8-year-old sister, who, like her two brothers, Corina had never met until she arrived last year.
“She wanted to be here with Corina,” commented her interpreter, as Corina’s sister smiled shyly.
Corina’s journey began by bus -- a pretty girl, barely 20, travelling the expanse of Mexico alone. She was at the mercy of a guide, and later, a “coyote” who charged thousands of dollars to lead her across the border, and who at any time could abandon the young girl -- and countless others -- who, out of desperation paid for his services.
Once on U.S. soil, she sought the help of immigration officials who placed her into a detention facility and took all of her belongings – her belt, shoe strings, and her purse with a list of family in Kansas and their phone numbers. They were never returned to her.
“We were given a sandwich and warm water,” she said. “There were 40 people in a room the size of this chapel [the chapel had seating for 16 people]. We had no covers, and it was very cold on the floor.”
On the second day, they were sent to another detention facility where Corina said she prayed with other immigrants. The following day, at a third detention facility, so many people were housed there that there was no room for Corina to lay on the floor.
Which turned out to be a great blessing for Corina.
“They saw that I was young girl and wasn’t a threat,” she said. “They asked if I had family members here who I could call.”
Although they had taken her purse with the list of contacts, “I had memorized their phone numbers,” Corina said with a smile, “so I called my parents, and the detention center let me go.”
When asked how she had been treated, she responded, “There was much fear. Some treated us very good, and others disrespectfully.”
With the help of a host of kind people, Corina made it to southwest Kansas. She continues to seek legal means to citizenship, but it is a far from simple matter. A nearly day-long round trip to the immigration office in Wichita results in a five-minute stand-up meeting with an official who is handed the necessary paper work. There are no contact phone numbers, so if their car were to break down and Corina couldn’t arrive at the meeting, she would be considered as fleeing asylum.
“She needs to be able to appeal for asylum,” her interpreter said. “But to do that she has to prove to the court how bad it was in Guatemala. And how can you prove such a thing?” her interpreter asked.
Corina loves her new home in southwest Kansas – the peace, the love of her parents and siblings. She hopes one day to become a teacher.
In the meantime, her prayer is that she will be allowed to stay here long enough for the United States to recognize that moving back to Guatemala would be a threat to her life.
Her hope is that the immigration laws in the United States will change soon to make it easier for people like her to join their families here without fear.