Every day that I was in Del Rio, at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., a bus would arrive at a particular convenience store and take migrants waiting there to San Antonio.
Having been processed for entry by U.S. immigration officials, the migrants would show their tickets, in the form of a QR code on their phone, to the driver and board. From there, they would connect to wherever they told border officials they were headed.
There has been criticism about this practice. Migrants are required to meet with an immigration agent at a given time once they arrive at their destination. Cynics roll their eyes at this process, but most migrants statistically keep those agreements.
I went to the convenience store to find someone who could tell me about their experience coming to America. A group stood beside the front door and around the corner, beside the car washes. I approached with my cameras and audio recorder, and the suspicion in their eyes was plain to see.
“Does anyone speak English? Can I talk with you?” It’s a humbling experience to ask that, especially when they turn their back to you.
“I speak English,” replied a young woman, lifting her hand.
Giselle, 30, had been a Cuban doctor before leaving the island in 2017 for Suriname, a country beside Guyana in northern South America. She thought she had escaped the Castro regime until the Cuban Medical Mission found her and her husband and began pressuring them to return to the island.
He escaped and made it to Miami and she was preparing to join him when things took a turn for the worse and threats began to be made toward her remaining family in Cuba. Giselle slipped out of Suriname and quickly found herself traveling with the wave of Haitian migrants working their way north.
The journey turned out to be far more dangerous than she expected, however. Her experiences within Colombia, and the now-infamous Darién Gap separating that country from Panama, are the stuff from which nightmares are made.
Traveling through those forests, often those who stepped into the jungle never stepped out.
“I saw with my eyes, my own eyes; people who had walked into the jungle and they died,” she said. “People were dead, just dead on the (jungle) floor.”
Sometimes, someone did come along and cover a body. But Giselle said she saw many bodies simply laying out in the forest, the victims of exhaustion, injury or illness.
“Sometimes they're so tired they cannot…, they just sit in one corner and they cannot walk anymore. They die by hunger, by being thirsty and (from) disease.”
Giselle was a general practitioner in Cuba and in Suriname. For anyone watching someone suffer like this would be painful. Imagine how that would be for a doctor.
The words came to her softly in a voice thick with emotion.
“It's ... It's hard; it's hard because even if I want to help them, I cannot because I have nothing to help them with.” Her eyes glassy, Giselle looked down at her feet.
“At that moment, I don't have water, not even food. I have nothing.”
She looked up, then around at the other migrants waiting for the same bus.
“I only can see, and give them hope, and tell them to go further. But it's frustrating.”