Weeks before Carolina Ramírez Pérez died in a packed truck on a desolate California highway 15 miles from the Mexican border, her husband had started carrying a machete to bed.
Ramírez Pérez, 32, and her husband, Martín Ruiz López, had joined in an arranged marriage when she was still in high school, her brother told The Guardian. For more than half his life, he had lived with abuse, violence, threats and outbursts of drunkenness, he said.
Earlier this year, her husband had started talking to his machete, her brother said. “’Should I kill her? Should I kill her today? ‘”Ramírez Pérez told his brother that he heard her husband wonder. She began planning her escape.
He begged family and friends for money to send his children safely across the border. He then reunited three of his four children and traveled three days by bus from his home in La Mixteca to the border with Mexico.
With the kids safe on the other side, he climbed into a brown 1997 Ford Expedition in the early hours of March 2. Inside the van, 23 migrants were herded melee in the back, according to authorities he said, with all but the driver’s and front passenger’s seats removed to create optimal space. Including the driver and front passenger, the car carried more than three times the number of people that had to travel safely in the vehicle.
In the dusty farming town of Holtville, California, a truck carrying two trailers crashed into the left side of the truck just as the first rays of the sun began to break out. Ramírez Pérez was one of 13 who died in the accident.
Heartbroken, his family and immigration advocates lament an American immigration system that It could force a woman in a desperate search for safety to search such dangerous avenues to cross the border. “She didn’t come here to live an American dream,” Cynthia Santiago, the family’s attorney, said in an interview. “She came here to live safely and to start a chapter where her children could live safely. She just wanted to live. “
“Carolina shouldn’t have had to die,” said Odilia Romero, executive director of Indigenous Communities in Leadership, a nonprofit organization for the indigenous community.
TThe Ford Expedition had driven through a 10-foot gap in the US-Mexico border fence just minutes before the accident, according to the US. border Patrol. For Ramírez Pérez, it had been a decades-long journey to get to that point.
Ramírez Pérez dropped out of school after his arranged marriage, said his brother, who lives in the United States and He asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from Ramírez Pérez’s husband. He was a couple of months away from graduating from high school.
She was a serious girl, dedicated to her family, her brother said. The violence started shortly after she got married, he added.
Ramírez Pérez gave birth to her first daughter in his teens, his brother said, and shortly after he left his daughter to go to the United States to earn more money for the family.
The couple had a son while they were in the United States. They moved and in 2012 they moved in with Ramírez Pérez’s older sister. However, after witnessing the abuse, his sister called the police, according to the brother. Ruiz López was charged with spousal battery, criminal threat with the intent to terrorize and try to dissuade a witness through threats, according to court records in Santa Barbara County, California. He did not contest dissuading a witness and was deported.
The Guardian was unable to reach Ruiz López for comment.
Back in La Mixteca, Ruiz López called Ramírez Pérez and threatened to harm his daughter, who had remained in Mexico, if she did not return with him, said Xiomara Corpeño, a member of the board of Indigenous Communities in Leadership.
He returned and the violence got worse. “He wasn’t just violent towards her,” her brother said. “He was violent with children. He hit them with whatever was available, with cables, with laces. It wasn’t like a shove or a punch or a hair or ear pull. He wanted to kill her and the only thing he lacked was the final courage to do it. “
Ramírez Pérez fled to her mother’s home, but her husband sent his friends to intimidate her, according to the family. Finally, he knew what he had to do to keep his family safe, his brother said.
She left her 14-year-old daughter with her mother, with just enough money to take her 10 and 2-year-old sons and her 5-year-old daughter with her on the three-day bus ride from the airport. town, said his brother. They reached the border city of Tijuana about a month before she died.
There was a sense of urgency and fear in his every move, according to his family. “She didn’t want to be trapped at the border for so long because she didn’t know if he would find her,” her brother said. “I wanted to get to where we were, where we could protect her and the children. She didn’t know what he would do if he found her and the children. “
The first step was to make sure the children were safe. “Her plan then was to find someone to help her cross the mountains and the desert,” said her brother. “She didn’t want them to have to walk through the desert with her.” By borrowing $ 14,000 from family and friends, she got her three young children to cross the border with her brother and sister before her without a hitch.
Then he learned of a road he could cross by car, his brother said, believing it to be much safer than the walk through the desert. The night before her departure, the guide Ramírez Pérez paid $ 12,000 to cross the border kept moving her. Every few hours, he would text his brother to let him know where he was.
At one in the morning, she texted him that she was getting in the car. “I replied, ‘Sister, please take care of yourself. See you soon, ‘”he said.
TThe accident that killed Ramírez Pérez drew national attention due to the high death toll, but immigration advocates say something similar. The incidents have occurred repeatedly near the border in recent years. In Texas last week, eight migrants were killed in a high-speed chase that began about 25 miles from the Mexican border.
The truck Ramírez Pérez was traveling in was one of two that entered through the hole in the fence that day: The California Highway Patrol found a burning red Suburban about 10 miles from the crash site, with 19 migrants hiding in it. the nearby undergrowth.
“My family, my friends, we’ve been in those situations,” said Dulce Garcia, executive director of the nonprofit Border Angels. “‘Get down. Make yourself small so the border patrol won’t see you.’ In those tiny little cars, I remember those old Honda Hatchbacks, you can accommodate so many people in a pile. It’s so dangerous. For all of us who crossed that border without paperwork, it’s It is painful to think that we could have been our parents, we could have been us, we could have been our brothers, our own relatives. “
The number of people seeking to enter the United States has increased in recent months. Joe Biden has maintained a restrictive Trump-era public health order that barred entry to migrants arriving at the border without prior authorization, essentially ensuring that no new asylum applications have been processed at points of entry for longer. one year. But the pandemic, cartels, and extreme weather events have created conditions so desperate that many migrants are willing to take serious risks.
“Our border policy is designed to create really dangerous situations for people in order to discourage people from migrating,” said Erika Pinheiro, director of litigation and policy for the immigrant legal aid organization Al Otro Lado. “But it doesn’t deter migration, it just leads to more deaths, whether it’s an overheated tractor trailer or an SUV accident.”
Ramírez Pérez thought he would cross the line at the border, not a hole in the fence, said Corpeño, a member of the Indigenous Communities in Leadership board. You may have misunderstood the guides. Spanish was his second language; he spoke mainly Mixtec, an indigenous language.
Due to her husband’s arrest for spousal abuse in the US in 2012, Ramírez Pérez could have qualified for a U visa, a visa for crime victims, immigration advocates said.
It was unclear how much Ramírez Pérez understood about what was available to her in terms of her rights at the time of her husband’s arrest. What little paperwork she received was in Spanish, said Cynthia Santiago, the family’s attorney.
The immigration system is quite difficult for anyone to understand, let alone a woman who was forced to drop out of school in high school and had language barriers, Santiago said. “The system is much more complex, especially when you add the layers of your education and language,” he said.
And even if I had applied for the visa, the wait time for a U visa in 2012 was two to three years, Santiago said. Now, it is between five and six years.
“The amount of time it took for a U visa to go through the system was something Carolina didn’t have,” Santiago said. “She did not have the privilege of waiting. She was in a situation where he threatened to hurt her and her children. “
Ramírez Pérez’s brother hopes that people understand that “we run this risk because people are in danger,” he said. “It’s not because we want to.”
He chokes when he thinks of how close he came to reuniting with the sister he hadn’t seen in seven years, to bonding her with her children, to showing her what a safe life could be.
“It would be so different if [the government] I actually listened to people who needed help, ”he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism