By Dr. Hayes Elmore
Someone I had the privilege of working with was recently honored at the annual gala for an organization in Los Angeles called Program for Torture Victims (PTV), an organization providing medical, mental health, legal and a multitude of other services to people seeking asylum in the United States. During the gala he shared some of his story, and he and PTV gave permission for me to share it as well. I do so for many reasons, among them the hope and inspiration it gave me at a time when I really needed it and the possibility that it may provide the same for someone else. And also because we live in a time when people coming to this country seeking safety are vilified, when they are inhumanely bused from one state to another as political pawns, when they are harassed and when they die in the dozens on some days trying to enter this country. Each of them has a story that deserves to be told. This is but one of them:
“I was arrested for the first time when I was 21 years old. There is a minority group in my country that is treat like second-class citizens. They can’t get jobs, they’re forced to speak the national language, they have no schools in their language. There is so much hunger, so much suffering. So, I decided to speak up, to be an activist because the military was hurting people, arresting people for no reason. I was condemning what the military was doing and so I was arrested too. I was lucky that time. I was only in jail for a few hours. My parents were able to bribe the commissioner of police. That’s how it works there. I had to sign a statement that I wouldn’t participate in any activity against the government and so I didn’t.
But then the situation kept getting worse. There was a crisis and the government would do anything to stop the crisis. They were killing people in the streets, they were torturing people, and people were responding with violence. I knew it would be a problem if I go involved, but I knew what was right and I couldn’t just watch people suffering so much. So I went to meetings where we were peaceful- we were trying to figure out how to convince the youth not to pick up arms against the government. But the government looked at us all the same and so one day they arrested all of us in the meeting. We were all locked up separately. I was locked up for days, and I was tortured twice a day. I didn’t want my family to know where I was because I didn’t want the government to find me, and I didn’t want my family to get hurt.
I didn’t want to go back home. I stayed with my older brother for a while but they came looking for me there. They didn’t find me, but I knew it wasn’t safe to stay there so I left. My wife, she was beaten. At that point, I knew I could never go home.
I lived in a farm house for three months. then I went to the border. I trekked by foot with other villagers who were running for their safety too. I stayed in the border for almost four months because I didn’t have money to go anywhere, and I didn’t have my passport. My father sold the house to get money so I could leave the country. He traveled to come meet me and gave me my passport, some money and my bible. From there I went to the airport because my cousin worked there and he helped me. We had to bribe someone so they didn’t scan my passport because the government would have detained me. But I made it onto the plane. I bought a ticket to Ecuador because they didn’t require a visa. All I had with me was my passport, my bible and some clothes. I didn’t know where I was really going. I was just fleeing to get some kind of safety.
When I started working with PTV, I was very stressed out. I didn’t know if I’m going to be deported. I was constantly worried about being deported because I knew if I was sent back to my home country I would be killed. I used to have nightmares every night, running, fighting in my dreams, seeing people getting killed. I would see what happened to me. I was always so stressed. But then I started therapy, and that was when I started to have some confidence and hope. I started to feel safe, I felt like I could see a future for myself again. They helped me health-wise, and they provided me with food. They helped me with the immigration process so I could get my work authorization. Once I got my work authorization, I started working. I went to school for electrical. After school I did 4,000 hours in apprenticeship to become an electrician so now I am working. I work 70 hours a week, it is a lot of hours but it is ok. I get to see my brother and my family friends who helped me. PTV still gives me gift cards every month to get food with it.”
My court date is in 2023. It has been postponed numerous times, but this is what I am waiting for. This is when I will know if I get asylum. My wife, she is still in our home country. She is in hiding. Right now, it is too dangerous for her to leave. The situation there is not good but I cannot watch the news about it because it is not good for me. So many times when I think about my past even know, I just cry about it. But now I have a future. In this country, I have a future. I am safe. My brother is here with me, I can become an electrician and hopefully my wife will be with me soon. Now I can say I have hope.”