This is the story of someone who arrived as a teenager from El Salvador to the U.S., spent his adolescence as an undocumented person, now turned international traveler. As I sit writing this piece just now, my friend Marío Delfín* is currently visiting his family back home in El Salvador for the first time since he had to leave his motherland for good when he was a young teenager. This is Mario’s story, as he agreed to share so we can bridge the communication gap between international travel communities and immigrant communities bounded by national borders.
Marío is from a rural area of El Salvador growing up under extreme poverty and conditions that left him eating dirt when there was no food. At just months old, he was left behind to be cared for by his father and grandmother when his mother left for the U.S.. As a young boy, he would work in agriculture in the morning, then be off to school for the afternoon. When police and gang violence began to spread into the area where he was living, his family thought it best to send him to the U.S.. At eleven years old in the year 2005, he attempted to cross the border for the first time accompanied only by his older sister. They crossed through to the U.S., but were detained and after being held in a detention center for four months, were deported back to El Salvador.
The poverty and violence back home was so bad, that four years later, at the age of fifteen, he crossed the border again – but this time with father, sister, and uncle. He and his father made it across, but his sister and uncle were detained and deported. He was reunited with his mother for the first time – someone he didn’t know well and could hardly recognize. Living in San Francisco, while attending high school he learned English and graduated with great standing. Despite the roadblocks he faced for being a Central American teenager with an irregular migratory status launched into a new culture and society, he earned a spot at the University of California, and the rest is history.
Travel in the U.S. as an Undocumented University Student
During his undergrad, Marío participated in a U.S. Domestic Exchange program where he interned in Washington D.C. for a non-profit organization. This was before the Trump presidency and the end of Advanced Parole, which allowed DACAmented students to realize international travel for studies, research, and emergency purposes. He flew to Washington D.C. and there he lived for about three months under the quarter-long internship program. Although Marío felt kind of out of place surrounded by folks in fancy business attire, he claims not to have felt any discrimination for his racial, ethnic, or national background and nobody seemed to suspect him of having an irregular migratory status. As a double major in Political Science and Latinx and Latin American Studies, he got hands on experience working in his sector of interest and thoroughly enjoyed his time there.
Domestic Exchange programs or travel programs and scholarships within the U.S. could be a great opportunity for folks who find themselves with an irregular migratory status, though you should always seek legal council and support before organizing these plans in order to mitigate risks.
International Travel as an Immigrant with U.S. Residency
After graduating from university, Marío finally received his residency and didn’t waste any time to travel internationally. Within six months after receiving his U.S. residency, he traveled to México, then to Bali! His experiences traveling to these places were so unique because of his background as a formally undocumented person living in the U.S..
Marío traveled to Cancún, México with his partner at the time who is a non-white woman born and raised in the U.S.. They stayed at a resort type of hotel next to the beach, participated in some tours, and enjoyed the beautiful ocean scenery. While they enjoyed their time there, they experienced some clashes due to his and his partner’s differing perspectives about traveling and tourism. For Marío, having the privilege to travel internationally was new to him and he was very thankful for the opportunity. He felt that his partner did not recognize her own privileges of coming to México as a tourist from the U.S. with the spending power of the dollar currency. Furthermore, she did not understand his feelings about being in a Latin American country near his own, where Central American migrants are discriminated against. Moreover, due to his personal experiences with crossing through this country as a child immigrating to the U.S. himself, the thought of being out at night and the sight of police frightened him. It was an interesting experience for him to visit México as a person with the privileges of coming from the U.S., but living the disadvantaged realities of being a Central American immigrant in this country.
The next time he took a trip, he decided to take it alone. Not knowing where to go, he used a search engine to choose a destination. Lucky for him, Bali was chosen. He loved Bali and felt a sense of liberty there that he didn’t feel while in the U.S. or in México. Nobody could guess where he was from, and when he tried to explain to them, they didn’t know where El Salvador was. This whole situation got even more confusing for folks when he would try to explain that he is from El Salvador, but lives in the U.S.. Considering this, he settled with claiming that he was simply U.S American, from the U.S., to which people seemed to accept. He didn’t feel offended that people couldn’t identify his place of origin on a map, and for the most part, was happy that people weren’t so interested in finding out where he comes from, but rather who his is and what he does today. While in Bali for six days, Marío lived his best life despite the intense jet lag he felt after the sixteen-hour plane ride. He took some adventurous tours in the jungle, made friends with his tour guide, and spent days relaxing. As a young person just recently graduated from university, working two jobs while pursuing his passion as a calisthenics practitioner and avid gym goer, this was a dream vacation that was much needed for him.
Words from Marío Delfín
Marío reflects on the time he spent internationally and is so grateful to finally have the opportunity to leave the U.S. and have his rights respected. While writing this piece (in 2019), he was visiting El Salvador for the first time since he left for good, and he was reunited with his younger sister who was celebrating her grand quinceañera – she invited him to be her chambelán. Before going, he was very anxious and fearful about what might occur while he was there due to the nature of violence in the area where he was visiting, but he was pleasantly surprised with how great his trip was. He danced the night away accompanying his little sister and enjoyed wholesome time in the place where he grew up. So full of love from his family, he hopes to return and see them again soon (update: between the time I began writing this article and got around to finishing it, he did return and he had such a great time!).
Now, Marío has some words of advice for fellow international travelers: please check your international traveler and U.S. passport privileges at the door. As someone who just recently was able to receive his U.S. residency, he has experienced the reality of living in the shadows of fear and within the bounds of the U.S.. For folks who find themselves in situations of irregular migratory status currently, he stands in solidarity with them all and hopes for a future where nationalities and borders don’t hold people back from pursuing their dreams or being with their loved ones.
Let’s Bridge This Gap :
I met Marío briefly as an undergraduate at our university. We saw each other around campus, at protests, and at Latinx community events. We maintained an online friendship while I was living and studying abroad in México and Chile for about a year and half. I never told him where I was and never wanted to share my international travels so publicly with people in my Latinx community because I felt shame in my privileges. I know that there are so many people who don’t have the privileges to travel internationally, and don’t even feel safe doing so within the U.S.. I knew about his prior irregular migratory status because he had mentioned it to me once, and because of this, I shied away from sharing with him where I really was. I have always found this difficult, wanting to be enthusiastic about getting more Latinxs and all people of diverse ethnic backgrounds engaged in international education and in traveling, but also not wanting to rub it in their face or step on dreams that some can’t realize under an irregular migratory status. This story and interview was shared to build more conversation about these topics between communities of international travelers and those of folks with irregular migratory status. The grand question now is, what can we do to make international movement around the world a right for all? We, as international travelers with the privileges that come with the U.S. passport, should be working to make this privilege of free movement a right for all.
We have to be #ViajerxsProMigrantes #TravelersProMigrants!
A Call to Action: Let’s Get People Free and Advocate for Free Movement Across Imaginary Borders for All
Currently, there are thousands of people being held in immigrant detention centers (concentration camps) under extremely harsh conditions. Many of the people being held are Central American migrants, from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which make up the Northern Triangle. These people are escaping the everyday violence they encounter due to the poverty in their countries that faced civil wars and civil unrest due to U.S. imperialism and political involvement.
I would like to encourage each reader of this article to take action. The quickest way to get people out of detention would be to pay for their bail bond while they await trial. If you would like to help, I encourage you to donate to one of the immigration bail fund organizations throughout the country. Bail is set from as little as $1,500 to as much as about $80,000, which is extremely high.
If you cannot make so large of a donation, I encourage each of you readers to create a fundraiser of your own with the goal of a minimum of $1,500 to be sent to one of the immigration bail fund organizations that corresponds to the state that you live in. The more of us that create these fundraisers, the more funds can be raised and they can be dispersed throughout all the different states that people are currently detained in. The more money we raise, the quicker we can get people free!
Here’s how you can get started:
- Donate $15 to an existing fundraiser where proceeds go to an immigration bail bond organization.
- Then, create your own fundraiser, where all proceeds will go to an immigration bail bond organization that will aid people detained in your state. There are a number of ways to go about fundraising. You can crowdfund or come up with creative ways to raise funds.
- Share and ask people to join you firstly donating to your fundraiser, then by creating their own fundraiser where all proceeds will go to an immigration bail bond organization that will aid people detained in their state.
- If you would like, share your campaign under the hashtag:
This way we can take a look at the movement across the country and continue this conversation about international traveler communities taking action to aid immigrant communities.
I’ll go first : as someone from California, I hereby declare that have created this fundraiser, Help Post Bail for Detained Immigrants – Bay Area with a minimum goal of $1,500, where all proceeds will go to The Immigrant Family Defense Fund.
If you are participating in this action of raising funds to help post bail for detained immigrants being held in detention centers/concentration camps, I urge you to be an honest participant and not hoard any of these funds for yourself. Please donate ALL proceeds to an immigration bail bond organization.
Below you will find some resources about the information discussed here along with the different immigrant bail bond organizations for the different states in the U.S., as found in the article Advocates say the fastest way to help immigrants separated from their children: Post their bail.
Thank you for reading, considering what a privilege it is to be an international traveler with a U.S. passport, and taking action to help create equal rights and opportunity for freedom of movement for all.
*I would like to the note that the photo used in the cover is not my own and that the name Marío Delfín is fictitious, as the interviewee who would like to remain anonymous*
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- Advocates say the fastest way to help immigrants separated from their children: Post their bail
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- Mexico Immigration Detention
DIRECTORY OF IMMIGRATION BOND FUNDS:
National organizations across the U.S.
Ohio (includes Northern Kentucky)
DIRECTORY OF CRIMINAL SYSTEM BAIL FUNDS:
National organizations funding bail across the U.S.
Local organizations funding bail for immigrants
New York City
New York State