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All circles of hell: how illegal immigrants from Georgia break into the USA through Mexico

Since the beginning of 2022, thousands of Georgian citizens have been illegally crossing the Mexican-American border and surrendering to American border guards. EuroRadio.

Photo: IStock

The journey of illegal immigrants to America is difficult, long, risky and expensive. People pay an average of $15 to $20 to survive immigration jails, hunger, cold, uncertainty, fear, sneak into the US illegally and start life from scratch.

Getting to the United States through Mexico is a new, but one of the main, direction of labor migration from Georgia. People of all sexes and ages travel, with families, pregnant wives and small children. Every migrant spends a different amount of time on the road. Some complete this path in two weeks, others may need several months.

In recent months, former employees of public services, the police, the customs service, and banks have been traveling to the United States in this way en masse. Among them there are even those who held relatively high positions.

There is little money, a lot of work - what the inhabitants of Georgia are fleeing from

Tatia, 36, (name changed at the respondent's request) works as an assistant to an elderly woman in a family in New Jersey. She cooks dinners, takes a woman for a walk, takes her shopping. Works 24 hours a day and earns $180 a day. Tatia has only two days off a month.

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Tatia is a lawyer. In Georgia, she worked for 11 years in the public service in one of the ministries. Injustice forced Tatia to leave.

“The salary is small, you work hard, you are oppressed. You studied, graduated from a magistracy, you know your business, and suddenly they can bring and promote a person who even knows Georgian poorly, not to mention English. For example, my boss hired a waitress and gave her a higher salary than me. There were many such cases,” she said.

Tatia left her job in 2019. At first I tried to do private business - I opened a catering establishment in Tbilisi. The home delivery service worked well during the pandemic. Then it became hard to work, there were fewer customers, Tatiya could no longer pay her salary and closed the restaurant.

What to do next? Tatia thought about emigrating to the USA. The legal way to get there from Georgia is to get a visa or a green card. Getting a visa is difficult. And the green card is won by a few. There is only one way out - to go the illegal way:
“At the end of January, I accidentally found out that you can get to America through Mexico. My cousin left. I also started thinking about getting there.”

Mexico, which has a 3141-kilometer border with the United States, has recently been the main gathering place for illegal migrants. Those who cannot enter the US legally try to get there through Mexican border towns. They come to some border town in Mexico, and then at the Mexican-American border they turn themselves in to the US border police.

In fiscal 2021 (which covers the period from October 1 of the previous year to September 30, 2021), the US Border Patrol detained 1,6 million migrants at the US-Mexico border. This data is almost four times higher than the previous fiscal year 2019. In 2022, the incomplete figure was already 1,8 million.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2021, only 37% of Mexican citizens who illegally crossed the Mexican border were Mexican citizens. This year, the proportion of countries that have not historically participated in migration flows has increased. Among these countries there are post-Soviet countries, including Georgia.

Far Mexico. Step one

It is difficult for Georgian citizens to enter Mexico. There are two ways to legally enter the country - get a Mexican visa or have a work visa category D of a Schengen member country.

There is no Mexican consulate in Georgia. A person wishing to obtain a visa fills out an application electronically and goes to an interview in Turkey. Recently, Mexico has complicated the issuance of visas. Therefore, most do not even try to follow this path.

Getting to Mexico is much easier with a category D European visa. Poland is the most popular country in this regard, this country willingly issues visas to Georgian labor migrants. However, sometimes this process takes too long.

Tatia contacted one of the travel agencies in Tbilisi. The agency promised her a Polish visa for $300. The agency found an employer, made an invitation and filled out an application at the embassy. The Embassy of Poland considers applications on the principle of a lottery machine, which is held every Saturday. Some wait their turn for months. Tatia was lucky, she “won” in the second week of waiting.

Arriving at the consulate, Tatia already knew what to answer if she was questioned in detail. She knew that she had a fake job offer from the supermarket, knew where she should live, what her salary would be, where the store was located, and so on.

The interview was April 19th. Within a week, Tatiya received a category D visa.

Step two - conductor

A single mother of two children, 33-year-old Maya from Zugdidi, decided to leave because of her difficult social situation. The salary of about $500, which Maya received as an expert on loans in one of the banks, was not enough for anything. Maya, along with two friends, decided to go to America. Several times they applied for a visa, but to no avail. So they chose the illegal route.

For $250 Maya received the required Polish visa. Then I started looking for a guide.

Conduits are people who deliver illegal migrants to the border between Mexico and the United States. For this service they receive from $10 to $15 thousand. The amount includes the organization of entry into Mexico and arrival to the US border.

Guides are people of different nationalities and can be found in different groups of social networks. Both Tatia and Maya found guides from Tbilisi. Tatia agreed on $12, Maya - on $8.

From Europe to Mexico

Georgian migrants choose different European cities to get to Mexico, and then to some border town. The final destination of the heroes of this material was Mexicali, a city in the north of the country.

The path from Europe to Mexico is difficult and risky. Everyone's success along this path is individual. Someone is lucky, someone ends up in a prison in Mexico, and someone fails to get to a Mexican city on the first try.

Maya was advised by the conductor to fly to Mexico from Paris. She and her two friends stayed in Paris for four days. The day before the departure, we learned that there was a problem at the border - border guards bribed by the conductor were arrested. Flight cancelled, tickets gone.

A week later, they bought tickets again, went through registration, and when boarding began, Maya and her friends were not allowed on the plane.

“We were told that several countries banned flights to Mexico on a D visa, and one of them was France.

We met other Georgians, they had the same guide. They ran into the same problem. We are all stuck,” the woman said.

Maya and her friends lost money for the second ticket as well. Added to this was the cost of living in Paris. They offered the conductor, who was to be paid $8 upon arrival in Mexico, to deduct these expenses from the fee. The conductor got angry and refused to provide services at all.

I had to look for a new one. Agreed on $7 thousand. The guide advised Maya's group to fly via Amsterdam. But in Mexico City, where citizens of Georgia arrived from the capital of the Netherlands, new problems began. Maya and her friend were arrested at passport control.

“I was somehow lucky, I went through passport control, but soon after the same border guard saw the second Georgian passport, we were arrested and transferred to the immigration service. We were there for 24 hours, we did not know what awaited us, where we were, whether we would be deported or arrested. After so many problems, we were in shock and stress,” the woman said.

Both were returned to Amsterdam 24 hours later.

After that, on the advice of the guide, the girls broke up and for the third time tried to fly to Mexico - separately and to different cities. This time all three succeeded. Maya suffered the most - her passport already had a Mexican stamp. Maya was taken in for questioning.

“I was asked about everything. Where and why am I going, why do I have a stamp in my passport, why was I denied an American visa. I was lucky that I knew the language and answered everything. I convinced them that I was a tourist, showed them photos to prove how much I traveled. I told them that my friends were vacationing in Cancun (a resort town in Mexico) and I should celebrate the New Year with them. I made up the whole story. They signed some document and released me after 40 minutes,” Maya says.

This document was permission to stay in Mexico for 90 days.

In a Mexican prison

Tatia flew to Mexico from Madrid. But of her group of 21, four immediately ended up in a Mexican immigration prison.

“Their flight was delayed. By the time they arrived in Mexico City, the bribed border guards had already been replaced. All four were arrested and taken to the immigration jail. There were terrible conditions - dirt, terrible food, cockroaches. Everything is taken away from you, you have no connection with your family,” the woman said.

To help the group members, Tatiya contacted the guide. It took Tom a week to get them out of jail. Tatia doesn't know how he did it.

From prison, all four were transferred to someone's private home in another city in Mexico. Tatia's friend recalled that the owner had a dangerous look, like a mafia. They settled not in the house, but in some kind of hut in the yard.

A week later, they tried to fly to Tijuana (a city in northwestern Mexico), but were again arrested:
“One of the four girls entered the prison with natural hair and came out gray,” says Tatiya. Only the third attempt to fly closer to the American border was successful for the company.

Sinking in the ocean

There are legends about how to get to the USA through Mexico. Many groups have been created on social networks where people tell their stories and clarify the moments of crossing the border. Mostly they write in Latin, from fake profiles, rarely anyone indicates their real name and surname. Many are aggressive and swear in the comments. They write that the conductors actually cheat, lie and take money from illegal immigrants for nothing, that this road can be passed without them.

36-year-old Mamuka Tadiashvili tried to get to America in a different way.

Mamuka studied in the cadet corps from the age of 15. Then he served in the army. He also participated in the August 2008 war. In 2010, due to a car accident, he was fired from the army. To survive, the family had to sell the apartment. Mamuka went to work in Turkey, but as a result, the situation began to deteriorate there as well. In April 2021, he returned to Georgia.

“But here I found the situation is worse - salaries are around $100-$175. I realized that I can’t do anything here,” the man said.

In the meantime, he got married, expenses increased. Mamuka also began to think about moving to America. With the help of family members, he took out a loan, raised about $13, and started looking for a guide.

Having a Polish visa category D, Mamuka flew to Barcelona. His flight to Mexico was in a week. The conductor warned him what to wear, which terminal to enter. But Mamuka decided to do it his own way, changing the flight. “I've heard all along that conductors don't really do anything. And I decided to go myself. I lost money on one ticket, nothing else, and with luck, I won't have to pay the conductor $8. The next day I bought a Barcelona-Lisbon-Cancun ticket and flew,” he said.

At the Cancun airport, a man wearing glasses approached Mamuka and led him to the check-in counter. Mamuka saw a border guard looking for his passport details and photos in a WhatsApp chat. He realized that he had. Mamuka was taken in for questioning, arrested, and returned to Spain the next day.

“In the immigration prison, where I spent several hours, the conditions were such that I could not stand it again. I had to look for another way. I remembered that you can get to the USA from the Bahamas. I was there in 2015 and knew. I started looking for a new guide in the Bahamas,” he said.

Mamuka and his wife needed $3 to return home. While friends and family collected the amount, the couple was in immigration jail.

“My wife and I were separated by one “grid”. The conditions were dangerous. We sat by this fence all night and talked so that she would not be afraid,” he says.

Over time, Mamuka was able to send his wife home. He himself spent more than a month in a prison in the Bahamas. His friend pawned the car in a pawnshop and sent money to Mamuka for a ticket.

Mamuka, who left his homeland at the end of January, returned to Georgia on April 17 - in the only shorts, in a T-shirt donated by a Cuban neighbor in prison, and with a debt of $ 30.

From Mexico to the USA

In Mexican cities, illegal migrants stay in hotels booked by smugglers. They also take a taxi there. The taxi driver is also the “person” of the carrier. And often associated with the police.

Arriving in Mexico, Tatia knew that there was complete corruption and that bribes were demanded at every turn.

“As soon as we got into the taxi, I told the driver that we were tourists, and if he took us in the next days, he could earn money. It was a young guy. I told him that I love clubs and if he knows a good club somewhere, let's go together in the evening. It worked. He began to “roll up” to me, I played along, it was a way to escape,” says the woman.

Tatia's group made it safely to the hotel. The rest of the group, in other taxis, paid the police $300-$400 at each post. Otherwise, they were threatened with jail. The same continued in the hotel.

“Every hour a guy came to us and said that we had to pay the money, otherwise he would hand us over to the police,” the woman says.

Tatia and Maya's last stop before the American border was Mexicali. From there, only the last stage remained - to reach the American border, to the wall.

Tatia's group stayed at the hotel for several hours. “In the evening, young guys arrived in sports cars, took us away and we drove at high speed. I got scared, asked me to slow down, they told me that they should take us to the place before the police arrived,” she says.

After about an hour and a half, the cars stopped and the passengers were ordered to move quickly. “We were actually thrown out, they said, now run. There was a desert, night, trees somewhere, we had to get to them. We ran across the sand, even the guys were so scared they were crying. Near these trees we saw a river, one of us checked the depth with a branch, it was not deep and we entered. We came out of the river wet, did not know which way to go to the wall, nothing was visible. We were led by an Uzbek family, and we followed them. When we got to the wall, everyone was crying,” she says.

"I thought about how to gnaw through my veins." US prison

At the American frontier, emotions are bifurcated. The joy of what has come is mixed with the fear of uncertainty. Tatia had the most trouble at the American border, she thought about committing suicide or returning back.

After surrendering to the US border guards, migrants are placed in the so-called detention cell (Detention). Anyone who illegally crosses the American border is taken into custody. It is said that the conditions in Detenshen are unbearable. Someone spends a day here, someone a week.

Before reaching the isolation ward, border guards search the migrants and take away everything - clothes, medicines, food. Documents, phones and money are put in one bag and sealed.

“They removed all the laces from the hood, jacket and shoes. I had an allergy medicine, it was also thrown away. We were taken somewhere, it was some kind of camp, a tent made of large structures. We were placed in a waiting room and given foil to protect us from the cold. Then I realized late that the laces are taken away so that you don’t hurt yourself there, ”says Tatiya.

There are thousands of migrants from different countries in the tent. People wrapped in foil lie directly on dirty mattresses on the floor. There are toilets right there.

“I knew it would be difficult, but I didn't expect it. I cried, went to the officer, begged, said that I wanted to return to my country. I felt like complete nothingness. I don’t know, I don’t even want to remember, I feel sorry for myself,” says Tatia.

Tatia spent four days at Detenshen. On the fifth day, she was transferred to an immigration prison in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Detenshen” seemed like a paradise: “About 20 people gathered on about 80 square meters. There were two toilets, we were very thirsty, and when we asked the officer, he said that you can drink from the toilet. Me and a Georgian girl from Kutaisi, whom I met there, ended up next to the toilet. What it's like, everyone coming and doing their business above your head. But you can't move, you can't go anywhere."

Tatiya also spent four days in Phoenix Prison. She could not eat: “I already thought about how to gnaw my veins with my teeth. I WAS VERY ILL. I was in the land of my dreams and I was so stressed and devastated that I didn't want anything else. I thought about returning. There you feel that you are nobody, nothing, alone.”

"Battle for Survival". How America welcomes migrants

In immigration prisons, migrants are fingerprinted, filed, assigned a special A Number and asked if they have a sponsor in America. A sponsor is a person living in the US who takes some of the responsibility for migrants. The presence of a sponsor means that the migrant has a place to stay and does not end up on the street.

Some find such sponsors in a special group. Someone is helped by a relative living in America.

Sponsors receive between $2 and $000. It is their responsibility to confirm that they are ready to accept a particular person when they receive a call from immigration jail. It is clear that this is a formality. As a rule, migrants do not live with such sponsors. In the case of both Tatia and Maya, their sponsors were friends living in America.

In immigration jail, people say they have fled their country and need asylum.

Ekaterina Egutia is an immigration lawyer who has lived in New York for many years. According to her, when an immigrant seeks asylum in an immigration prison, his deportation is suspended and the court proceeds to consider the asylum case. The asylum seeker is given the right to work while his case is pending before the court.

From the immigration office, migrants are taken to the Red Cross hotel. Here you can live for some time, get food and clothes. Previously, the seekers of a better life were also bought tickets, but now they do it themselves.

Sometimes a bracelet is put on a migrant's leg and his movement is controlled. The same thing happened with Maya's friend. She could only travel within 112 km of the sponsor's address. Maya doesn't know why her friend was wearing a bracelet. Because of this, they were forced to move from Arizona to Chicago, to her sponsor. Later, the girls received permission to live in New York. The bracelet was removed, and instead a special application was installed on the friend's phone. She periodically sends selfies to the service to confirm her location. This will continue until her case is completed. When this will happen, no one knows.

Illegals, say the heroes of this material, need a few days to recover. If someone is met by acquaintances, it is a little easier for them to adapt. For those who do not have acquaintances and do not know the language, it is much more difficult.

There are dozens of posts in groups on social networks that people are on the street and have nowhere to stay.

It was difficult for Maya to find a job. For about two months, she put the documents in order and made ends meet thanks to part-time jobs. Part-time jobs for newcomers are offered by those who want to relax for a few days and are looking for a replacement. They pay them out of their salary.

Now she has a stable job. She takes care of an elderly man in New Jersey. During an interview with Maya via video link, the old man interrupts her several times. The girl apologizes, runs to the second floor and brings him ice water. She says that she was lucky - she got a good family. She works 24/7, but she needs it to get back on her feet. Her salary is $200 a day.

“In America, the main battle begins, the battle for survival,” says Tatia. She knew that starting from scratch in a foreign city would not be easy:

“I have been here for three months and often thought that I would take a ticket and leave. They told me from home that we would buy you a ticket, but no, I can't go back. When you start working, you get a little better. You can work for 17 hours, but you know that you will earn not a penny and the next day you will not think about how to feed the children. You gradually feel like a man, ”the woman says.

The difference between the working conditions of legal and illegal immigrants is huge. Illegals are paid less. Therefore, those who came to America, in parallel with work, are trying to solve the problem of documents and status.

Most hire a lawyer to eventually get political asylum. According to Ekaterina Egutia, asylum in America is requested for the following reasons: political, belonging to a social group (LGBT, other social groups), persecution on national, racial or religious grounds.

“If the court decides to grant asylum, the immigrant is given the appropriate status and a green card after a certain period of time,” says Ekaterina.

Proceedings in immigration court can take several years. If it happens that a person cannot get asylum, he will be deported. Unlike Europe, deportation in America does not mean that a person is taken directly from the court to the airport. Therefore, migrants remain in the country, but still without status and at great risk.

Maya's first trial is scheduled for September 2023. Her case is domestic violence. Tatia's case is purely political, based on her previous work. Litigation is ahead and they don't want to talk about the details.

“Migration has become much younger – this is a national disaster”

“There has never been such a large-scale outflow of people from Georgia. It's very worrying,” says Giorgi Badridze, researcher at the Rondeli Foundation, a diplomat who was Georgia's ambassador to the UK from 2009-2013.

According to him, the age and nature of migration are suggestive. Mostly 20-30-year-olds leave the country. While earlier this age group went to study in the West, now these people go to the US illegally as labor force.
“Along with occupation, this is the biggest national threat that can face a country, a state and a nation.

This can have catastrophic consequences - the future of the country is gone, people are fleeing this country, they are disappointed, they do not see their future here. This is a very dangerous stage, a big risk and a serious problem,” he says.

Despite such a flow of migration, the Georgian government never touches on this topic either officially, or at government briefings, or in conversations with journalists. Against the background of the fact that even officials choose this path, everyone knows everything very well.

On the contrary, in the official media, the country's prime minister is proud that the country is growing economically and that Georgia is a leader in the region.

“This is an ideal situation for an oligarchic regime - the fewer people in the country, the easier it is to maintain the regime.

Therefore, it is natural that the authorities do not notice this, on the contrary, it suits them,” says Badridze.

“To come is like giving birth to a child. Forgetting about suffering

Maya and Tatia have families and children in Georgia. None of them, despite the difficulties they experience in America, are going to return to Georgia. The girls say they don't see a future in this country.

“Coming here is like giving birth to a child, you quickly forget about the suffering you have experienced. I really wanted to leave the country, I felt so bad, I was so unhappy that I would never return,” Tatia says.

Moreover, both Tatia and Maya plan to bring their children to live with them in the future. But not through Mexico.

Despite four months of suffering and huge debts, Mamuka did not stay in Georgia either. Shortly after his return, he took out a loan for his grandmother's pension and left for Israel. He had nothing to lose - come what may.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants, and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York.

Now Mamuka is in Israel. He works three jobs 22 hours a day and earns $270 a day. Lives at one of his jobs to save on an apartment.

His daughter Sofia was born in Georgia. After the Bahamas, Mamuka's wife was tormented by nightmares for a long time - she could not sleep, woke up at night, struggled with panic attacks. According to examinations, everything is fine with the child. Mamuka hopes that this terrible story will not affect little Sophia in any way.

Mamuka plans to stay in Israel for several years. But his ultimate goal is America: “Unlike Europe, you get paid better there, you feel better. You have a chance to get documents and not remain a laborer for the rest of your life. Therefore, someday, in a different way, having better prepared, I will still go to America with my family, ”says Mamuka, preparing to go to the hospital where she works as a cleaner.

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