Human+Kind: Yolanda's Story

Yolanda. Photo credit: Carlos Rodriguez, Red Cross Volunteer

Yolanda. Photo credit: Carlos Rodriguez, Red Cross Volunteer

Migration affects the lives of millions across the United States, the Americas, and globally. The Human+Kind project seeks to highlight the stories of migrants in the US-Mexico borderlands and the work of humanitarian organizations to support them, including the work of the Red Cross. For more from this project, please click here.

"I was deported in 2010 on New Year’s Eve. My then-fiance and I had dropped off his aunt in Tecate, Mexico and were driving back across the border when we got detained. He was an American citizen but had forgotten his wallet at home. We were sent to a secondary inspection station and that is when I was told that my tourist visa had expired and that I would not be allowed to return home.

"I had lived in the United States for 17 years. I had worked as a manager in the fast food industry. I had a good job, a good income. We were living a good life. I am not sure if I hugged or kissed my daughter goodbye that day. I haven’t seen her now for more than 5 years.

"It’s a tragedy that is destroying lives. It haunts me that I may never see my family again; that there may never be a remedy; that if I tried to return, I could lose my life [during the crossing] or end up in jail. No one ever thought this would happen, even in my worst nightmares. When I realize that I may never hug my daughter again, it leaves me in an uncontrollable state of mind. I try to remain serene. I ask God to help me.

"It’s unjust. I worked hard and was never arrested. Yet, they’ve treated me like I committed the worst of crimes. [The punishment] is excessive. Besides separating families [U.S. immigration policy] is creating scars that never heal.

"My deportation process took longer than usual. It was very late, nearly midnight. I had refused to sign any documents that would have speeded up the process because I wanted to see a judge. I wanted to explain my situation. I wanted to ask whether there was any way I could stay. I worried what would happen to my daughter, my job, apartment, bank account, and car. My head was spinning, and I still refused to sign.

"They stuck me in a small, dark room — perhaps to pressure me. After some time, they let me out of the room and asked me if I was ready to sign. I said no. A female agent took my hands, fingerprinted me, and told me to remove my clothes. I asked her why I should do that since I had not been caught with contraband. She said she didn't care. She put on gloves and searched me wherever she pleased. I was humiliated. She twisted my arm as she handcuffed me, which caused great pain in my shoulder. I asked if she could loosen the handcuffs and she told me to shut up.

"Because they don’t deport women at night [at the Tecate port of entry], they sent me to the one at San Ysidro/Tijuana. There, they finally removed the handcuffs. My shoulder had been dislocated. My arm fell and I felt a sharp jolt. They didn’t care. They did not give me anything for the pain.

"Around one in the morning, they took me to a large room filled with women from all over the world. There was nowhere to sit or lay down. I dropped to the floor and started crying like a crazy woman. Near me was a woman from Brazil. We somehow managed to communicate, and she told me not to cry and she held me. Other women joined us on the floor. It was the first time I ever formed a circle with other women. We talked about our individual experiences until we fell asleep.

"The following morning, they handcuffed us again, chained us inside a truck, drove us across a bridge, and marched us single file through a revolving door into Tijuana. There was no one there to help us — no Mexican authorities, no civil society groups, nobody. I was terrified. I had known that this was a dangerous place, one where people are assaulted, raped, and killed.

"Eventually, everyone went their own way and I was left alone. I wanted to run back into the United States. Perhaps that way I would be arrested and finally get to see a judge. I didn’t run, though. Instead, I noticed a giant Mexican flag. At that moment, I became filled with hatred, not for Mexico but for its government, for the system. I knew how much I didn’t want to be here, and I realized what lay ahead.

"I became an activist because this tragedy is separating families, destroying lives, and [stealing] time that we will never recover. I co-founded a group, Dreamers Moms USA/Tijuana, of deported women in Tijuana who have children in the United States. I believe things will change in time. Perhaps we will never see it. Maybe our grandchildren will see it, maybe our kids. But, there will be change. I have seen things change already. People are starting to take notice and change their way of thinking. That’s part of our work. We want to awaken people’s consciousness. We want them to stand up and fight against this injustice. If we only sit [on the sidelines] nothing will change.

"Dreamers Moms started simply as a group of women who met to talk. The group is a lifesaver. Now we support each other as we learn how to battle for shared custody of our children, how to fight our deportation, and how to raise funds for our legal challenges. Even if only two or three of us return home, that would be a major accomplishment.

"In a way, we are new family. Yet, while we have each other, we also are alone. We are not home. We are not where we belong. Women are the nucleus of the family. Children need their mothers. I need my family.