Aries’ Story

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Aries’s harrowing story of migration begins in Ecuador, where he first contracted with what is known as a “coyotero” to some. The coyotero would help Aries make the journey. From Ecuador to Peru via bus, then to El Salvador and later Honduras via plane, and Honduras to Guatemala via bus, the first legs of the journey were without significant problems.  He went on to Guatemala and then crossed into Mexico without significant challenges as well.  

To avoid the cartels and organized crime in the state of Chiapas, the coyotero led them by land into the mountains. The terrain made the journey take two days.  The group rested in the valleys between mountains. They arrived at a village intending to take a bus into Mexico City. The coyotero decided the only option would be to put Aries in the charter bus’s luggage storage. He hid there for about 12 hours as they made the trip from Mexico City to the city of Guanajuato. 

A day later, Aries and the group were taken to Piedras Negras, a city on the Mexican side of the Southern Border. Here, they stayed in a camp with many makeshift shelters and dozens of people from different groups waiting to cross into the United States. Every person, including Aries was given a gallon of water, two to three cans of tuna and beans, and a plastic garbage bag to use as a blanket. This “blanket” allowed some to endure the frigid nights along the Texas-Mexico border.

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They crossed the desert for about 4 days. Aries still remembers seeing two human skeletons. When they rested, they looked for trees to hide under. The nights would become so cold that the water in their gallons would freeze. In the dark they could hear the howls of coyotes.  

Thirty minutes before arriving at the border, they were robbed.  They then crossed into the United States for the first time. Two trucks were waiting for them to take them to Phoenix. 

Aries was arrested by police who broke into the house he was staying in with others in Phoenix.   Aries describes being stunned by how many individual police were surrounding the vicinity. They had even closed off streets. 

The police alerted border patrol, or what Aries and many migrants call “la migra” and everyone they detained were taken to a detention center.

Aries was trained by the coyoteros to know what to say. The coyoteros had advised Aries to lie about his nationality. If the authorities believed that Aries was Mexican, then he may be able to remain in Mexico instead of being deported back to Ecuador. La migra demanded Aries recite the Mexican national anthem, and name iconic mountains of Mexico, and asked similar questions to prove his identity as a Mexican citizen. Aries did not crack. Eventually, the authorities agreed to let Aries go with a warning. After spending some time in a cell, Aries was released and returned to Piedras Negras on the Mexican side. 

The taxi drivers in Piedras Negras also transported migrants and Aries found a driver who knew his coyotero. The driver took Aries to another “campamento” and Aries set forth on a different route, one that would take him days to cross. As he ran downhill through the mountains, Aries tripped and injured his knee, perhaps only 200 meters from the border. 

Aries’s knee hurt so much that he could not run and instead, he chose to lie down in tall grass where he might not be so easily caught.  Around 11 pm that night la migra walked around with dogs and flashlights.  They missed Aries lying in the grass. Aries fell back into a deep sleep and woke up covered with snow. 

Aries was caught and detained once again. Yet Aries once more encountered someone on the inside who was willing to help him: The immigration officer was associated with Aries’s coyotero. Aries finally understood the man’s obscure messages to that effect and was connected with a taxi driver who drove him across the border.

Finally, Aries arrived in Phoenix once more.  He then rode in a van for 3 days to New York City– where his brother lived– two days short of his birthday.  At the end of the trip, Aries felt sick:  He had knee pain, lacked food, and was unsurprisingly exhausted. 

In 2013, Aries – still undocumented and living in New York– was assaulted. He lost consciousness and had to be hospitalized where he then underwent surgery for his broken nose. Two of the three assailants were arrested. Aries had to receive medical attention for his injuries. Aries cooperated with the prosecution of the assailants by signing some papers. 

Aries never had qualms about getting justice despite being undocumented. Aries says that he knew his rights as an undocumented status and therefore held no fear about cooperating to convict his assailants.

Aries received news of JFON’s existence through those working at the court when he was called to testify. Aries tried a few other organizations– some of which were defunct– and others which were too far for him to travel. JFON, which was in Flushing, was the closest to Aries. There, he met attorney TJ Mills. 

Aries remarks that JFON helped him from the very first moment that he arrived– he states “Me ayudaron desde el primer momento”. Aries appreciated JFON’s exceptional service and attention to detail. TJ consulted him and they decided to try for a U-visa: a visa for special cases in which immigrants are victims of violent crimes. After being put on a waitlist, Aries was one of a few recipients of a U-Visa in 2014. The statutory cap on U-visas is only 10,000 per year, and the current demand for them far exceeds that cap. 

Aries finally received his work permit in 2017.  When asked about TJ, Aries has nothing but glowing reviews. Aries says TJ was excellent and he appreciated TJ’s continuous communication. Aries appreciates TJ’s precision and honesty. He exclaims “Todo lo que me decía, era así, tal y como era” which means that everything TJ claimed came true and was factual. He states that he is “eternally grateful” for TJ’s help. When asked about Aries, TJ says that despite risking his deportation, Aries chose to cooperate with the prosecution and got his attackers convicted. “I’m awed by Aries’s courage,” he states.

Aries has been waiting for about three years for his case to move forward. Unfortunately for many migrants seeking U-visas and other relief, extended waiting times of years or even decades are common. On March 7th, 2023, Aries received notice that his case is under review and serendipitously received the news that he would be a resident on his very birthday, March 30th, 2023. He feels excited about this news and looks forward to visiting his home and family in Ecuador. 

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