Living on the Edge

A long journey out of ‘darkness’

Finding freedom in the U.S. is a tough road for poor migrant workers


For three days, Pablo C. wandered the 120,000- square-mile Sonoran Desert in southwest Arizona, where temperatures can reach 118 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. He was a teenager, alone, with no food or water.

Many cross illegally from Mexico into the United States via the desert. Many die. The Arizona Recovered Human Remains Project found 2,649 bodies there from 2000 to 2013.
Some, like Pablo, survive. “I was lost. I had been beaten and robbed, but I would rather die in the desert than to be a slave and be abused in my own country,” Pablo said.

U.S. Border Patrol officers rescued Pablo and sent him back to Mexico for deportation to his native El Salvador, where he once again began his two-month journey back to the U.S., through Guatemala and into Mexico, eventually settling in Nogales, just south of Mexico’s border with Arizona.

He was all of 18 years old. Pablo left El Salvador because of a civil war that raged there from 1979 to 1992. He is from Chinchutepeque, a mountainous region of central El Salvador. “We were given weapons and told to fight or be killed. I refused,” he said. “My morals will not let me hurt another person.”

From 1990 to 1999, Pablo waited — each day crossing into Arizona to work — until he had his papers, finally boarding a bus for New York and ending up in Freeport. He now does construction, specializing in concrete work.

Pablo asked to be identified by his first name only because two of his three sons attend Freeport schools. Although he is a legal resident, he still worries that the U.S. government could revoke his papers, especially with immigration being such a hot-button issue in Washington.

President Obama announced last month that he would issue an executive order to shield five million undocumented workers from deportation and authorize them to work. Meanwhile, House Republicans passed a resolution 219 to 197 to halt the president’s order.

Under Obama’s order, undocumented workers will not qualify for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and cannot receive Medicaid, food stamps and other need-based programs offered to citizens and other legal residents.

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