Why didn’t you do it legally?

An immigrants journey to the United States


Valerie Servellon, Staff Writer

Between 6,000 and 7,000 immigrants cross the U.S.- Mexico border a day, leading many to be misinformed about the “criminals” that cross the border illegally.  

Not one story is the same, but many undocumented immigrants risk their lives coming to the United States to get away from their homes and start a new life from scratch. 

In Sept. of 2021, Carolina Montañez decided she could no longer live under the conditions of the third-world country, Colombia. Risking her life for a chance at a new one, She left her son, father, and many siblings and to begin her  journey to the United States. 

She flew to Mexico and traveled its lands until she arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. At the border, she paid a “coyote” (a guide) to lead her across the river and over the wall that separates Mexico from the U.S. When she was climbing over the 30-foot border she faced a major problem.  

“I broke my foot and had to wait for immigration and turn myself in,” Montañez said.  

Montañez was found by border control, detained, and released a couple of weeks later. She went through a slow and painful recovery because of this injury. 

Even though there is a more likely chance of getting a visa under the RELIEF Act implemented in early 2022, Montañez did not receive a visa. 

“The times to wait for a visa are extremely long just for the appointment [to get a visa]” she stated, “Additionally, even when you arrive at your appointment it is more likely that they will deny [the application for the visa].” 

A year after Montañez made her journey, childhood best friends David Manzo and Alejandro Aponte decided to take a much more grueling journey, continuing the story of how unfortunately most South American immigrants have to risk their lives to get the modern-day “promise land”. 

This pair originated from Venezuela, a country that is currently going through a humanitarian collapse due to political conflict. Many citizens can barely pay for a meal with their monthly salary. 

“You would work and [money] wouldn’t be enough for anything, it wouldn’t be enough to eat, it wouldn’t be enough to sustain yourself day to day,” Manzo recalled. 

The top 5 countries Venezuelans seek asylum in are Peru, the United States, Brazil, Colombia, and Spain. After attempting to make a new life for themselves in Colombia, Venezuela’s neighboring country, the pair decided to take  the taxing journey to the United States by foot and bus for the chance at a better life. 

The Darién Gap, which was named the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere,  is the stretch of rainforest, muddy ground, and mountains between the tip of Colombia and the southern part of Panama. Many who immigrate to the U.S. hike through this piece of land to get to Panama, continue traveling up Central America, and reach the U.S. -Mexico border. 

“We spent seven days just passing through [The Darién Gap,]” Aponte expressed.  

The dangerous endeavor is traveled by many, with people risking their lives and advertising their services to lead those who wish to cross the rainforest. 

“There were many difficulties we faced to cross the rainforest, we could have gotten lost, without food, the water [rivers], we could have died,” Manzo noted. “In other countries, we had to hide so they wouldn’t trap us and send us back to our countries.”

Throughout the journey, Manzo and Aponte saw many different people in different stages of life, all with the same goal of starting a new life in the U.S.

“Young girls and boys, pregnant women, [and] babies in the arms of their parents,” Manzo recalled. 

Some are not as lucky as this pair though, the rainforest has muddy grounds, rough terrain, and mountains to climb up and down, and many do not survive the journey. 

“We saw a Haitian woman who was left alone by her group and was dying in a tent on the trail, we stopped and gave her water and candy. We believe that she died there alone,” Manzo said. “We smelled an odor while walking of those who had been buried on the trail. Those who die are buried so others walking the trail would not have to see them deceased, but we would still smell the smell of death.”

Some groups traveling together will leave their own children, family, and friends because they are holding the group back. They will stop at nothing to get there. 

Immigrants from everywhere will hike, jump, swim, and die for the sliver of a chance at a new life because of the inaccessibility of obtaining a visa in a different country. Wait times can be years, and yet that is no promise of getting approved for the visa. Visas cost excessive amounts of money, especially for those who are already living below the poverty line and struggling to make enough money to survive. 

Leaving your home, family, and all that you know, and risking your life to enter a country that will continuously ask you, why didn’t you do it legally?

“It’s very hard to get a visa over there [Venezuela] everything is corrupted there… they charge very much and it is a very long wait we could barely buy food,” Manzo responded.

Photo: Getty/Sandy Huffaker/AFP