By David Kretschmann
It had been weeks since Papa told us to gather our things. Weeks since I last saw my friends back home. It had been weeks since I last saw Mama smile. She woke me up that morning as the others were getting ready to march again. Mama was growing leaner with every day but she refused to eat before Papa and I had our fill. Papa told her every night to eat some more, but she is worried that our supplies will run low before we reach the end of our journey. He said that we were close to the end, he had been saying it for weeks now, despite all our setbacks he still put on an optimistic facade but I knew how to tell when he was lying.
The police only let some of us proceed, far more had to wait for them the bureaucrats to clear them, bureaucrats are villains, Papa told us, but we could not stop and wait for them. I wondered why the police made the others wait, even though we all came from the same place. Why were we allowed to proceed and the others not? A lot of the children had to stay behind with their parents. I was the youngest of our group now.
Walking had become more and more strenuous with every day and our rests had become shorter as well. Papa was walking far ahead of us with the other men, who were deciding where to go next. We were walking through an arid desert, whose oldest cacti did not even remember the sound of rain. The group did not stop that day even though one of the women fainted, her family stayed with her while Mama urged me to keep up with the others.
The sun was at its highest when we came to a stop because of barbed wire. Papa and the other men began to clear the barbed wire while we rested. We put up a few of the tents to escape the sun although the men were far worse off because they had to work hard to cut through the wire in the scorching sun. One of the wires had snapped when Papa cut it and ripped a large piece of skin off his chest. He continued to push the barbed wire out of the way after Mama stopped his bleeding.
The sun was setting when we all made our way through the barbed wire. The path which the men had cleared was wide enough for me to walk by Mama’s side through most of the rows of the razor wire but at towards the end we had to move through it in single file.
What happened next was too quick and confusing for me to understand. Papa and the men were kneeling on the ground while police in bulletproof vests pointed their rifles at them. These were not the dirty used rifles we had seen at home, these rifles looked scarier, all black and clean, pointing at Papa who kneeled on the ground motionless. The women behind me began to mumble and some even cried while another policeman in a bulletproof vest with a shiny rifle pointed right at Mama ordered us to move to the side with the others. We knelt there until the sun had set and the desert grew cold. We would have set our tents up long ago, if the ICE agents had not held us at gunpoint all night. I could not even see Papa any more now that the only light was coming from the flashlights that were attached to automatic rifles.
It was probably two hours past midnight when the policemen started to move us into their trucks. One of the bulletproof ICE men had started to push me to a different truck than the one my mother was being led to. It was then when she started to yell at the policemen, she yelled “Don’t separate me from my daughter!” in her perfect English, which was better than mine and Papa’s by far. When the policemen ordered her to enter the truck she started to push against them, in order to get to me. She did not push for long. As the policemen she pushed tried to hold his ground another moved in and swung the butt of his rifle in her face. The policeman that was pushing me now picked me up without any effort and placed me in the truck. I was alone.
I can not remember how long I sat in the truck in silence, how long I cried for before I finally fell asleep. I was too exhausted to stay awake all the way to the camp. When they woke me up it was already morning. The fences surrounding the camp welcomed me into my new home with their familiar topping of barbed wire which made me wonder about its true purpose in this place. The same policeman that had lifted me into the truck now lifted me out of the truck before pushing me through the gates of the camp. Once inside the armed guards asked me for my name for the first time. They asked how old I was and took my ID card which proved that I was 12. Then they made me change my clothes for one of their jumpsuits and led me to a giant tent. The children in the tents were as meagre as my mother towards the end of our march, the youngest of the children got up to take a good look at me but some of them just laid on their beds and did not acknowledge the new-comer in any way.
The guards left the tent after they assigned me my bed. A girl about my age approached me from the next bed over and introduced herself: “Hey, I’m Maria. What’s your name?” her voice was so soft that it was struggling to break the oppressing silence that held the tent in its grip. Maria had crossed the border two weeks ago with her parents, she told me. Maria had a look on her face that I had seen often enough back home: The look of despair, the face that my parents had had at the start of our journey. Maria did her best to get me to talk but I did not feel like talking. We sat on my bed and I could not help but cry. I had no idea what had happened to my mother or my father after we were separated. Papa had said we were close but did he have any idea that this would happen? Maria tried to comfort me while I was weeping but her voice became more faint with each word and even her occasional coughing was barely audible. I lost track of time but some time after my tears ran dry Maria turned to me and told me that she was in a lot of pain. The guard that I convinced to follow me to Maria looked annoyed to see her on her bed crying. I had to translate what Maria said because her English was not as good as mine, not that it mattered much what I told the guard who just pulled a radio from his belt and asked for a paramedic to get some Aspirin. A paramedic who leisurely walked over to Maria’s bed gave her a handful of pills and began to calmly inject something into her arm. It must have been easy to find a vein in Maria’s arm since you could already see them clearly through her sickly pale skin. Both men left me alone with Maria whose whimpering had now become much quieter. Her breathing, though still faint, slowly became more regular. I sat with her for the rest of the day. Until her breathing stopped entirely. I ran. I ran to the guard that had ordered the paramedic to her before and I yelled. I was missing the words in my panic and yelled in Spanish and English for help and soon 4 of the armed guards came with me. They took Maria with them to another tent. They did not bring her back.