After Texas sends him to Washington, a migrant starts a new life

A bus with migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard, the exclusive tourist island off the coast of Massachusetts, by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, September 16, 2022. (Matt Cosby / The New York Times)

When Venezuela’s Lever Alejos arrived at the southern border penniless in July, he gladly accepted a free bus ride to Washington, D.C., courtesy of the state of Texas. He had no family or friends to receive him and spent a night in the square in front of Union Station. He soon settled in a homeless shelter.

“I have nothing,” said Alejos, 29, on his third day in the city, “but I have the will to work and be successful.”

Two months later, Alejos makes between $ 600 and $ 700 a week, saving to buy a used car and planning to leave the shelter.

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“There are so many opportunities here,” he said on Thursday, at the end of a working day. “You just have to take advantage of it.”

Since April, thousands of migrants, most of them Venezuelans, have been persuaded on buses and planes to Washington, New York, Chicago and, last week, to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, after facing a perilous overland journey from their country. destroyed for a new start in the United States.

Transportation to Democratic strongholds was organized by Texas, Florida and Arizona, whose governors are trying to draw attention to a record increase in the number of people crossing the border, which they attribute to the Biden administration’s immigration policies. .

Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott left two buses laden with migrants near the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris and others over the weekend. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis chartered two small planes on Wednesday to take 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, the exclusive tourist island off the coast of Massachusetts, which he mocked as a liberal bastion.

Democrats have called the stunts cruel, and many migrants are at least temporarily homeless as their new host cities rush to help them.

But others, like Alejos, have called free transportation a blessing. They are already employed and are reaching a certain stability. They have found jobs in the construction, hospitality, retail, trucking and other sectors that face a shortage of workers in an economy that is still recovering from the impact of the pandemic.

“In most large cities, including those where governors dispatch migrants, employers are rushing to find workers,” said Chris Tilly, a labor economist at UCLA. “They are responding to a need”.

Michelle Rumbaut, director of a hospital that assists migrants in San Antonio, recalled a recent group of young Venezuelans she met who were determined to travel to New York, where a job awaited them.

They were exhausted and traumatized after witnessing the rape of young girls, who trudged alongside dead and robbed migrant comrades on their months-long journey to the United States, she recalled.

But they quickly found work clearing trees for real estate developers in the San Antonio area, amassing enough money to buy one-way flights to New York.

Migrants like Alejos are at the same time symbols of a humanitarian crisis, pawns in a partisan debate and people who simply follow the economics of supply and demand.

Most face a tough battle to win their asylum claims. But it will take years for the legal process to be complete, and those who lose their lawsuits tend to live the rest of their lives in the shadows, trying to stay busy and out of reach of the immigration officers tasked with deporting them.

Meanwhile, they are both straining the resources of cities trying to provide them with social services, and filling a gap in the national labor market.

While up to 8 million immigrants work in the United States without authorization, asylum seekers ultimately receive work permits while their cases are pending.

Since 2015, Venezuelans fleeing difficulties have flocked to South American countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile. Overall, nearly 7 million left the country in that period, more than 1 in 5 Venezuelans.

As the coronavirus pandemic hindered those economies, Venezuelans have begun to leave South American host countries for the United States. Others began migrating directly from Venezuela when word got out that Venezuelans were allowed to enter the United States and then seek asylum.

They represent the fastest growing group of migrants arriving at the Mexican-US border.

On their 3,000-mile journey to reach that border, they must cross the Darien Gap, a 60-mile stretch through dense jungle, where migrants have claimed to have fallen prey to bandits, drug dealers and human traffickers. In one place at the end of the trail, Doctors Without Borders reported having assisted 100 rape victims in the first five months of 2022.

This year, Alejos decided he had to face that arduous journey.

Solidly middle-class in Venezuela, he was struggling to keep his car repair shop afloat amid the country’s economic meltdown. In Venezuela today, many people earn only a few dollars a day.

To pay for the odyssey in seven countries, Alejos sold his workshop in his hometown of Barquisimeto in northern Venezuela for the miserable sum of $ 750. “That was my down payment for a new life,” he said.

His journey through the Darien Gap was a nightmare, he said. Mexican officials and cartels were threatening.

When he finally crossed the Rio Grande to Texas, he turned himself in to the US border authorities, who tried him, handed him his immigration papers, and delivered him to a shed, where other Venezuelans had also been dropped off.

Then, they were offered a free bus to Washington or a $ 50 bus trip to San Antonio.

At the end of July they arrived in Washington.

Within days, Alejos found a job in construction. By the second week, he was sending money home to support his 7-year-old son Christopher and saving up to buy a cell phone. By late fall, he plans to move from the shelter to his place.

After an allergic reaction to chemicals during his construction job, he quit and came across an ad on a Facebook page of Venezuelans in Washington. A company was looking for people to work with at events: soccer and football matches, conferences and private parties in a variety of roles.

Soon, the day before games, he stocked the stalls with food and other supplies and served spectators hot dogs, nachos, and beer at events. Worked at FedEx Field in Maryland; university facilities, such as the University of Virginia Scott Stadium; and other places in the area.

Sometimes he has been asked to work as a bartender, waiter or dishwasher.

It’s not a dream job, he said, but it’s a good start and he’s giving it his all.

“I always show initiative, doing extra tasks here and there that my supervisor notices,” he said. “This could lead to something bigger; I’m gaining experience “.

“What I need now is to achieve financial stability,” he said. “The next step will be professional growth”.

He sends his son $ 150 twice a month.

“Christopher’s quality of life has improved 100% since I came to this country,” he said, citing better nutrition, new clothes, going out to restaurants, and visiting an amusement park.

For himself, Alejos bought a new cell phone and earphones, shirts, pants and shoes. “I try to keep my priorities straight,” he said. “I’m not doing something crazy. I’m trying to create an emergency fund. ”

In three weeks he hopes to buy a 2012 Honda Civic.

His only regret is that his schedule does not allow him to attend English classes in person. But he found a way to learn for himself, the Duolingo language learning app, and then tries to practice with clients.

Alejos said he followed the instructions he received from the authorities to check in at the local immigration office and that he was planning to apply for asylum.

He will have to discuss his case in front of an immigration judge, but said he has yet to be informed of his first date in court. The process typically takes place over several years. The chances of winning are slim and applicants are ordered to leave the United States if they lose. But when a decision is made, many migrants have settled, a disincentive to leave.

While thousands of migrants were quickly deported to Mexico or repatriated to their countries under a pandemic-related health order known as Title 42, Venezuelans are not subject to politics because Mexico will not accept them and the United States has no diplomatic ties. with Venezuela.

In his spare time, Alejos explores his adopted city with other Venezuelans, visiting the Natural History Museum, the Zoo, Chinatown, and the Capitol.

“I always try to see something new on my days off,” he said, and often post selfies on Facebook during his releases.

He misses his family, he said. But it’s philosophical about his circumstances.

“You often have to suffer to be compensated along the way,” he said.

After spending one night on the street and another in a shelter where he felt insecure, Alejos stayed in another shelter which he described as neat, comfortable and tidy. “Each person has a locker; the sheets are clean; the showers have hot water and there is Wi-Fi: all the services “, he said.

“I feel lucky that the governor put me on a bus to Washington,” Alejos said. “He opened the doors to Me”.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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