For more than ten days, Maxcellus, a 27-year-old Cameroonian, was unable to change his clothes. On his body, the same sweaty T-shirt in which he almost drowned in the Pacific. The same trousers with which he crawled, soaking wet, onto a deserted beach known as Ignacio Allende, in Puerto Arista, municipality of Tonalá, Chiapas. The same shoes he wore at dawn when he saw four of his companions die. The same clothes he was wearing when Mexican soldiers picked him up and transferred him to a hospital.
On October 11, 2019, Maxcellus and seven other Cameroonian migrants survived a shipwreck. They were seven men and a pregnant woman who lost her baby.
These are the names of the survivors, as written by the Mexican authorities:
Dee Clinton Ngang.
Tohnyi Constant Djuawoh.
Agbor Aaron Agbor.
Goden Mban Gatibo Werewai John.
Etiondem Gabriel Ajawoh Justine.
Aghot Arron Agbot.
Nchongayi Elvis Fomeken
Echengungap M Asong.
At least three others drowned:
Emmanuel Ngu Cheo.
Romanus Atem Ebesor.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) records four deaths. Maxcellus and Derrick, two of the survivors, claim that two people named Emmanuel died on the boat. In addition, Derrick said that there is a fifth victim, a Cuban citizen, but he did not provide a name. Mexican authorities only confirmed three, whose remains were identified in funeral homes in Chiapas and Oaxaca. (Maxcellus’ and Derrick’s full names will remain undisclosed for protection).
This time it was not the Mediterranean, that mass grave on the way to Europe. It was the Pacific, a lesser known route but often used by migrants trying to reach the United States. Images of African migrants floating in the water, inert, are sadly common on the coasts of Libya, Morocco or southern Spain. Now it was the sea of Mexico that returned the bodies.
“The boat was full of water, the people were screaming, and in the end we were shipwrecked. I thought we weren’t going to survive. That nobody was going to survive. I thought we were all going to die,” Maxcellus told me, a reporter for Animal Político, one of the members of the cross-border journalistic alliance that created Migrants from Another World*.
“I have to thank God, who saved our lives. I can’t imagine how I got out of there alive. I fought and fought and fought while the waves were pushing us back, but I made it to shore,” Derrick told me when I interviewed him by video call in early May 2020. He was at the home of some family members and had only been released a week earlier after spending several months in a detention center in Houston, Texas.
Sometime between 3am and 5am on October 11th 2019, a boat carrying Cameroonian migrants along the Pacific coast lost control and sank. Of the handful of men and women who fell, only a few knew how to swim. They were left at the mercy of the currents off the coast of Chiapas.
This is the story of that shipwreck, which took the lives of at least three people. They were all desperate. They had been camping out in front of the Siglo XXI migratory station in Tapachula, Chiapas, for several months and wanted to get to the United States. They paid $320 to a coyote to try to go around the police checkpoints by crossing through the sea. They didn’t make it.
The eight survivors, however, did reach their goal. Four of them are now free on U.S. soil and are waiting for their asylum cases to be litigated before a judge. The other half remain held in detention centers, now hotbeds of contagion for COVID-19.
I had No Choice
Maxcellus was a welder in Kumba, in southwest Cameroon. The English-speaking minority that resides there is at odds with the rest of the state, where people speak French. Since 2016, both communities have been at war, and a part of the population wants secede from the territory. The separatists know the territory as Ambazonia. This confrontation has been called a “conflict of colonial languages”. More than 200 languages are spoken in Cameroon, but the ones that define enemy territories are French and English, the languages used by the empires that colonized them.
Since the beginning of the war, thousands of people have died and many others have escaped, more than 600,000 according to the United Nations. Of these, a small group has managed to cross half the world and reach the United States via Latin America. In 2019, Cameroon was the nation that contributed the most people to this dangerous route. Fleeing violence, they sought to apply for asylum in the United States or Canada. They brought terrible stories of razed villages and massacred families.
“I decided to leave because of the problems in our country. The military was against me. I was a young activist and was arrested in October. My family helped me get out of the place,” says Maxcellus, a burly man who, despite months of hardship, keeps a strong body.
I met Maxcellus on November 27, just as he had arrived in Tijuana, Baja California, along with his friend Evis, another survivor. The two of them were staying at a rundown hotel downtown, a dump for which they paid 800 pesos a night. Inside were migrants from India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and others from Cameroon. They were all passing through. Everyone wanted to get out of Tijuana as soon as possible.
In 2018, Tijuana was declared “the most violent city in the world”, according to a study by the Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice of Mexico. That year, 2,640 murders were recorded, with a rate of 138 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Three days before our meeting, Maxcellus and Evis took a bus in Tuxtla-Gutiérrez, Chiapas, and traveled almost 2,500 miles across Mexico from south to north. It is the longest way to the U.S. border, but also the safest. The other route, the Gulf, crosses the states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas, where the kidnapping of migrants is more frequent.
After months of risking their lives, travelling 2,500 miles by bus was easy for these two survivors.
“I had no choice,” Maxcellus says of their escape.
We met in a restaurant next to the Enclave Caracol, a social center where activists from all over the area interact. Among its activities are the workshops held by the lawyers of Al Otro Lado, an organization that provides legal advice to hundreds of people that end up in Tijuana trying to seek asylum in the United States.
The two newcomers are worried about their immediate future, but first comes food. They say they spent their last pesos on bus tickets and they are hungry. They each spent more than US$5,000 to get here and now depend on the support from their families.
Maxcellus says he is the oldest of six siblings. He is followed by four females and one male. He explains that an arrest in October 2018 did not discourage the military, which continued to harass him. His family sold some land so that he could escape, and he left for Nigeria. “Many Cameroonians flee there, but the authorities arrest them and send them back to Cameroon,” he says.
Persecuted by soldiers and afraid of being killed, he says he had no choice but to go far away. They decided the best option was to seek refuge in the United States, and the way there would be through Quito, Ecuador, where Cameroonians like him did not need a visa until Aug. 12, 2019.
This is a thought you often hear: “I had no choice.” The alternative was to die at the hands of the army, or perhaps of an armed separatist group, or to take a chance on the extremely dangerous route to Europe. When you’re on the run, you don’t have much time to evaluate your options. His was to go to Nigeria and from there to Ecuador. It was the easiest thing to do. The only option, in short.
Colombia, Panama, “The Jungle”
“It can’t be explained. It is terrible. When I was inside I thought I had better died in my country, with my family. You see bodies everywhere. Children, pregnant women, men,” he says, recalling the journey through the Darien jungle in Colombia. Another recurring thought: if I’d known, I wouldn’t have tried.
In the Darién he was mugged and he lost some money and a cell phone, says Maxcellus. He claims that anyone who resists is killed right there. In a way, he felt lucky. He had survived. He says that in this transit he met some of the people who would later be with him in the shipwreck. He doesn’t talk much about them. It seems as if there was a pact of keeping to your own story, as if he had no right to speak on behalf of anybody else. He is Maxcellus, the welder with four sisters and one brother, the survivor.
“Panamanian Migration officers took us to Costa Rica. From there we went to Nicaragua, where we were given a pass to Honduras. From there, they sent us to Guatemala. We crossed the river and arrived in Tapachula,” he explains.
On July 1, 2019, Maxcellus entered Mexico through the Suchiate River. It’s just a few meters that are crossed on a cámara, a kind of boat made of big plastic doughnuts and directed by a guy with a wooden stick. These are precarious gondolas that come and go between Mexico and Guatemala every day carrying products without taxes and workers without papers.
When he arrived on Mexican soil, he tells how he was detained by agents of the National Institute of Migration (INM) and transferred to the Siglo XXI migratory station in Tapachula, Chiapas.
Tapachula was his intended destination, as it was for more than 7,000 African migrants who were registered and detained by the INM in 2019. Sources from this institution who spoke on condition of anonymity said that there are international networks that use this town as a base of operations. According to them, there is a network of hotels and lawyers there who take advantage of a legal vacuum to allow migrants to continue their journey. This theory was confirmed by Tonatiuh Guillén, a former INM commissioner.
“I entered the camp in July. I left on July 12. They gave us a document, but it wasn’t good,” explains Maxcellus.
Dates are important; they make the difference between life and death.
If Maxcellus had been released four days earlier, he wouldn’t have been a victim of a shipwreck.
If Emmanuel or any of the people who drowned in Tonalá had left Siglo XXI before July 10, they would not be dead now.
July 10 was the date that Ana Laura Martinez de Lara, then INM’s Director of Immigration Verification and Control, on orders from the government, issued a memo to all detention centers changing the rules of the game.
Previously, non-continental arrivals were released with a document that forced them to regularize their situation or leave the country during the following 20 days. These are nations that have no diplomatic representation in Mexico, and deporting migrants there is expensive. So the Mexican state would label them “stateless” and turn a blind eye when migrants used this document as a safe-conduct to reach the northern border.
The exit permit was not a travel document, but it was used as such.
Everything was different from July 10. The INM modified the application of the rule and gave migrants two alternatives: to regularize their situation or to leave the country the same way they had come, that is, through the southern border with Guatemala.
Martinez, who no longer works for INM, insisted that this was not a major change, that it was in line with previous laws, and that it was a matter of promoting regulated migration. She also said that no one had pressured her to make this decision.
In practice, things did change, but no one informed Maxcellus. He had to find out by force. As soon as he left Siglo XXI, after eleven days of confinement, he took a bus to Tijuana. It passed through the first checkpoint in Tapachula and the next in Huixtla, located 30 miles away. At the third checkpoint, located between Arriaga, Chiapas, and San Pedro Tapanatepec, Oaxaca, he was stopped. He had traveled less than 200 miles and had barely set foot in the second Mexican state on his route.
“They told us we had to go back. That the document only allowed us to be in Tapachula,” he explains.
That was the consequence of the agreement signed a month earlier between the United States and Mexico, in which Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to reduce the flow of migrants over the border in exchange for Donald Trump not imposing tariffs on his exports.
According to that pact, thousands of National Guard agents were deployed in the south to prevent poor families or victims of violence from reaching the border with the United States.
In addition, asylum seekers were sent back from the US to northern Mexico, to violent cities like Tijuana or Nuevo Laredo, to wait for their case there. This only applied to those who spoke Spanish, so of Maxcellus managed to cross over, he would remain in the United States until a judge decided whether he could stay as a refugee or be returned to where he came from.
The closest point to the border was more than 1,000 miles from Tapachula, where he was trapped. Until then, the countries they had crossed had given them documents to carry on, as in Costa Rica or Panama, or they had looked the other way. That was supposed to be the case in Mexico, but they didn’t take into account the pressure from the United States.
Maxcellus was among the first wave of migrants to get stranded, the first for whom the INM documents did not get them to the United States. They were also the first to fall into the spider’s web of Mexican institutions. From the day he was told at a checkpoint that he could not continue his journey north, he began a pilgrimage from office to office without anyone giving him solutions.
“The day after they returned us we went to Las Vegas (other INM facilities in Tapachula). They told us to go there on July 20 to receive our document. That night we slept out there. But it was no use. We went for months without information,” he complains.
That’s how the African community came to set up a camp in front of the Siglo XXI migrant station. With no work, no money and no possibility of moving, hundreds set up their tents in front of the detention center.
From that moment on, a grueling routine was organized between the makeshift refugee camp and Las Vegas. For weeks, the migrants went back and forth, waiting for someone to give them the good news and a document with which to travel. But it was impossible. One day they were told that their name was misspelled and that the process had to be started all over again. Another, that their documents had been lost. A third, that they had no reason to return the next day.
As in Asterix and the Twelve Tasks, migrants had to face a bureaucracy designed to wear them out and which they did not even understand, since they did not speak the language.
Meanwhile, the money was running out.
“We had no food, we had nothing, they gave us nothing. They told us we were stateless, that we had to go to the first immigration post. We did, and from there, they sent us back to Las Vegas. They were playing with us,” he says, seemingly upset.
Trapped in Tapachula, the migrants began to squander what few resources they had left. They had paid for plane tickets, bus tickets, taxis, hotels and coyotes to go through the jungle. They had paid officials, they had paid for daily food, and they had been robbed.
They were coming close to being left with nothing.
The INM didn’t regulate them. Returning to Guatemala was unthinkable, and they didn’t want to ask for asylum in Mexico because they feared that if they applied to the Mexican Refugee Aid Commission (Comar) for protection, U.S. judges would reject their case when they crossed the border and all their efforts would have been in vain.
“I looked for work in Tapachula. But they told me they couldn’t hire me, that I didn’t know the language. I ended up selling hard-boiled eggs on the street,” Maxcellus explains.
“We had no choice,” he repeats.
Tapachula as a Dead End
With the chaos in the camp, the riffraff and the organization of groups to protest against the authorities, some migrants simply disappeared. Coyotes have always had a strong presence in Chiapas, and Tapachula is one of their main bases.
Until then, Cameroonians, Congolese or Angolans didn’t require the services of polleros, which is the name of the guides who take you north: they could cross the country legally with their exit permits. But when the Mexican government decreed a change of rules, a new market opened.
The choice was presented to Maxcellus by a Congolese man, who told him about a guy who could help them. This is how coyotes work in a camp of desperate people. No need for big advertisement. All it takes is for someone to hear about a way out, as slim as it may be, and they all jump at it. There was nothing to lose.
Someone promised to get them to Mexico City without explaining how. Maxcellus refers to that “someone” as “the agent”, and gives no details. Ana Lorena Delgadillo, a lawyer with the Foundation for Justice, accompanies the family of Emmanuel Ngu Cheo, a victim of the shipwreck in Chiapas, in their legal proceedings in Mexico. According to her, one of the testimonies collected claims that there were police involved in the network that captured the migrants to sail north. There are investigations open in the prosecutor’s offices of Oaxaca and Chiapas, but not even the families of the victims have had access to the investigation file.
So, for now, we only know that “the agent” is a guy who promised a handful of desperate Cameroonian migrants that he would bring them to Mexico City.
The date was Thursday, October 10.
Maxcellus says he almost didn’t make it to the meeting, but finally managed to convince “the agent” to send a car to Siglo XXI to take him to the coast. They picked him up at 7 p.m. and moved him to a house.
He thought the trip was by car to the capital, so he was surprised when they gave him a black plastic bag to cover his belongings.
They went to a small river, where there were two boats.
The first one sailed without incident and reached its goal. They came to a place they did not know and slept in a house full of weapons. They were frightened, but there was no longer a way out. The next day they were driven to Mexico City in cars.
In the second one, a tragedy occurred.
A handful of men and a woman are stuffed into a boat where they barely fit. It’s night time, you can’t see anything. There is a lot of confusion and the coyote in charge of sailing the boat does not seem to know what he is doing.
Maxcellus says he has no idea where they sailed from or how long it was before the water started to come in. Everybody knew something was wrong and started screaming.
In the midst of the chaos, he barely remembers how he struggled for every breath of air. Legs and arms clung to the boat, already capsized, or to his body. “People were pushing, screaming. I fought, but I was tired,” he remembers.
Suddenly, through the spray and the half-light, Maxcellus says he saw two men on the shore. It was a fisherman and his son.
“I shouted at him amigo, because I know what amigo means in Spanish,” he says.
But he didn’t find a friend. The guy just searched the bags with the belongings that were being returned by the sea and stole some of them. Others would wash up on the beach as a testimony to the shipwreck.
“We were confused. We managed to get out. I looked around and saw a body. It was Atabong’s. We moved into the jungle, crying, not knowing what to do. Until we saw an army truck,” he says.
They were alive.
Maxcellus explains that they were all taken to a hospital in Tonalá, Chiapas, and from there, to the State Attorney’s Office (FGE) to take their statements. Finally, they moved them to an immigration station in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital.
The place where they were detained was not the most welcoming for survivors of a shipwreck, as it lacked the most basic conditions for accommodating human beings.
It is a place known as “La Mosca” or “El Cucupape 2”. Until 2013 it had been a plant that produced sterile flies for use in agriculture. As it was owned by the Institute of Appraisals and National Assets (Indaabin), it was reconverted into a detention center for foreigners in June, shortly after Mexico and the United States signed the agreement by which the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged to reduce the flow of migrants. It had previously been used by the Federal Police and National Guard, who complained about its poor conditions.
It was deemed unsuitable for barricading police officers, but it was okay for locking up migrants who had survived shipwrecks.
In Mexico, migration stations are detention centers for foreigners who are caught in an irregular situation. Most of those who enter do not leave unless they are deported. Migration is not a crime, but guys like Maxcellus are detained in jails as if they had robbed or assaulted someone.
The day after the shipwreck, the Tapachula camp exploded. Tired of feeling like puppets in the hands of institutions they didn’t understand, hundreds of migrants tried to walk straight onwards and break through the area of enclosure. They marched for more than twelve hours under extreme weather conditions. First came a suffocating heat and after, torrential rains. By the time those ahead were intercepted in Tuzantán, 25 miles north of Tapachula, they were completely exhausted.
That caravan tried to make its way to the United States on the anniversary of the day when 300 Hondurans had gathered at the San Pedro Sula bus station and marched out together in a group that by October and November 2018 had snowballed into a massive horde. Unlike the Central American exodus, which managed to reach Tijuana after a month and a half of walking, the Africans hit a wall composed of National Guard officers and did not finish their first stage.
The eight survivors heard about the attempt from their compatriots who were also detained in La Mosca 2.
They would not regain their freedom until nearly a month after the accident. As they had been victims of a crime, they were provided with a resident’s card on humanitarian grounds, although Migration also offered them a so-called “assisted return”. This meant to return, now traumatized by the accident and with a lot less money in their pockets, to the place they had escaped from almost a year earlier.
A few weeks after leaving the migration station, the group split up. Maxcellus and Evis opted for Tijuana, which has a border with California. The rest went to Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, in Tamaulipas, on the other side of Texas. Between Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo there are more than 1,300 miles across Sonora, Chihuahua and Coahuila, desert states on the border and in which organized crime has gained strength.
In Tijuana, as in all the rest of the border, the options are limited for asylum seekers. Either you sign up on a list and follow the process legally, or you jump the fence and ask for asylum, knowing that you begin your struggle for protection with the handicap of having disobeyed U.S. rules.
Every morning, dozens of people gather at the El Chaparral pass, where you can access the United States on foot. There, every day, the American authorities call out ten numbers for passing. Each number is a family. On the other side they will have their first interview in which the credibility of their threat is determined. If you are not there when they call out your number, you miss your turn and have to wait for the stragglers to be called. A website allows you to follow the progress of the list, which is managed by the asylum seekers themselves.
The wait at El Chaparral is a collection of the horrors of the world. There are Hondurans, Salvadorians and Guatemalans who have been threatened to death by gangs, there are Mexicans who have fled when cartels put prices on their heads, and there are Cameroonians who traveled halfway round the world to get to that very place. Usually, asylum seekers wait two or three months until they hear their name and the door to the United States is opened to them, but there are suspicions that if you pay, you can speed up the process.
On the first day they set foot in Tijuana, Maxcellus and Evis had no idea about any of this.
Ten days later their phone stopped working.
They must have done something to get across so quickly.
It wasn’t until April that a Cameroonian recently released from the Otay Mesa detention center in California confirmed that Maxcellus, the shipwreck survivor, was there. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not respond to requests for information. Later in mid May, I learnt he had been released.
Derrick, 26, was released on April 27, 2020, in Houston, Texas. He had been held for several months after he crossed the international bridge from Nuevo Laredo to the United States in early December.
He was also on the boat and now says he does not know how he managed to get out of the water alive. He just thanks God. He is currently being held with relatives and is awaiting an appointment with the American judge who will hear his request for asylum. We talked by video conference at the beginning of May 2020.
Like the rest of his colleagues, Derrick needs protection. He fled his country when the army killed his cousin, a student like himself at Buea University in southwest Cameroon. Derrick’s is a nomadic family looking for a place to feel safe. His brother is in Dubai. His mother is in Canada. His father is the only one left in Cameroon. “I left because of political instability,” he says.
The story of young Derrick, a political science student and farmer, mirrors that of his peers. Persecution and then a hasty flight halfway round the world to try to reach the United States. Trapped in Mexico, he also got on the damned ship that sank in Chiapas.
He claims he doesn’t know who organized it, only that it was a Mexican man and that he escaped when the crew begged for help and later drowned. Nor does he know the name of the place from which they set sail. But he claims that when he was in the car, he saw they were driving away from Tapachula airport.
As for the treatment provided by the Mexican authorities, he remembers the first immigration station. “I was in very bad condition.”
Being detained was not part of his plans, but freedom also caught him by surprise. From one day to the next, Derrick remembers, they were on the streets. It was early November in Tuxtla-Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas. None of the eight Cameroonians had ever been to this place or planned to stay, despite the efforts of the Mexican authorities to keep them from going north.
Being trapped in Tapachula had cost his companions their lives. Now, suddenly, the Mexican government had changed its tune and some members of the camp were receiving their permanent resident cards and were on their way north. All they needed was to raise enough money to get going.
“In the shipwreck we lost everything. Documents, papers, money. But I had some bills in my pocket, so we were able to rent a room while we talked to our families,” he says. They rented a room for four thousand pesos. The following week, they moved to second room where they paid half.
Families are a basic lifeline for those who flee. Abandoned in the middle of nowhere, traumatized and penniless, the eight survivors gathered in that room and planned their trip north. They received some financial support and they recovered from the shock. They had not put themselves through that hell to stay in Chiapas.
At this point, their paths diverged.
Derrick explains that he went with another of his companions to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. This is a tough town, where organized crime has a large presence, fundamentally from the Cartel del Noreste, a division of Los Zetas. Kidnappings of migrants and assaults are common.
The system is as follows: the pollero or the migrant pay for the right to be there, for stepping on that land. The cartel then gives him a password. It is a kind of permit. If you have it, you can continue. If you don’t, you can be kidnapped or forced to pay for using a crossing run by the cartel. According to information from the Tamaulipas Prosecutor’s Office, since 2016 more than 30 disappearances or kidnappings of foreigners have been reported in the state. Many more, however, go unreported.
NGOs, volunteers, lawyers and migrants tell you about this system, but they all ask for anonymity. No one in Nuevo Laredo wants to expose themselves by talking openly about a system that shows the extent to which criminal groups impose their law in the area.
Africans are not usually targets of crime. They can be lot of trouble when it comes to collecting ransom. Cubans are the preferred target of the mafias, and Central Americans the most common. They may be kidnapped, extorted or enslaved. Some never speak to their families again and their bodies never turn up. In Mexico there are more than 3,000 mass graves and more than 61,000 missing persons. But this doesn’t usually affect Cameroonians like Derrick. They are practically the only ones who move freely in Nuevo Laredo.
However, they can be robbed just as easily. Their money is the same as that of Central Americans or Cubans. There might not be a family to extort, but their pockets can be picked just the same.
Derrick learned this when he’d only been in the area for a week. “I went out to shop and got mugged by men with guns. I was terrified,” he explains.
“People were very afraid”
The scare got him going. A day later he went for the international bridge. He says there was a group and he simply joined them. He explains that he chose Nuevo Laredo because it is the fastest way. The insecurity of its streets makes it a hostile but fast destination. There are families who prefer to go to Matamoros (212 miles to the east), where more than 2,000 people have been sleeping in a camp on the banks of the Rio Bravo for months; Reynosa (158 miles to the east), Piedras Negras (73 miles to the northwest) or Ciudad Acuña (165 miles to the northwest), the route most travelled by migrants from various African countries.
From the moment he crossed into the United States, Derrick was detained in a prison for migrants. This is how the asylum system works on the other side of the Rio Bravo. Men and women with thousands of miles on their backs, after fleeing from horrors and undergoing hellish journeys, must remain locked up for several months.
The government believes that this discourages the arrival of Central Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, Cubans, Bangladeshis, Congolese or Cameroonians.
Derrick accepted his confinement knowing that it was part of the process. What he could not imagine was the world changing so drastically while he was behind closed doors. When he was admitted, Covid-19 had not even been detected in China. By the time he regained his freedom, the virus was a global threat and detention centers were a hotbed of infection.
Derrick was in a Houston detention center when one of the officers became ill with the coronavirus. “People were very afraid,” he explains.
During the first months of 2020 the pandemic spread through the detention centers. President Donald Trump suspended asylum claims and shut down the border, imposing an expedited deportation plan that undermined international law.
Mexico agreed to receive Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans and handle their deportation. However, there were thousands like Derrick, who had been detained for quite a while. They watched as the virus cornered them inside their cells. In early May, when the Cameroonian was already free, a man from El Salvador who had lived in the United States for 40 years and was held shortly before the start of the pandemic was the first victim of Covid-19 in the facilities of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Six months after the accident, Derrick is still waiting for his chance to prove that returning to Cameroon would be a death sentence. “I want to rebuild my life. Maybe I can visit my mother.”
His greatest fear: that a judge will reject his case send him home.
*Migrants from Another World is a collaborative, transnational journalistic investigation by the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism (CLIP), Occrp, Animal Político (Mexico) and the Mexican regional media Chiapas Paralelo and Voz Alternativa for En el Camino, of the Periodistas de a Pie; Univisión Noticias Digital (United States), Revista Factum (El Salvador); La Voz de Guanacaste (Costa Rica); Profissão Réporter de TV Globo (Brazil); La Prensa (Panama); Revista Semana (Colombia); El Universo (Ecuador); Efecto Cocuyo (Venezuela); and Anfibia/Cosecha Roja (Argentina) in Latin America. Other collaborators in the investigation were: The Confluence (India), Record Nepal (Nepal), The Museba Project (Cameroon) and Bellingcat (United Kingdom). This project received special support from the Avina Foundation and the Seattle International Foundation.