Kevin witnessed horrors on his journey from Venezuela to the United States. In Panama, as he crossed the Dairén Gap, he saw people drown, children succumb to hypothermia and travelers become victims of sexual violence and murder at the hands of drug cartels. He was robbed and lost the few extra clothes he brought for the months-long journey. He was freezing when he finally arrived in Denver.
Kevin, who’s 22 and declined to tell us his last name, is one of at least 1,500 newly arrived migrants who’ve been sheltered by the city this month. He’s one of millions who’ve taken dangerous paths through jungles and deserts over the years to ask the U.S. government for asylum, legal and safe passage into the country. But that status is far from a guarantee.
“Imagine traveling with your child, then your child dies and you arrive in the United States only to be deported,” he told us in Spanish during a recent visit to a church-run shelter. “You lost your child and you lost your dream. So then it’s difficult.”
Like so many others, he felt leaving home was worth every risk. But his reasons for coming here may not be good enough to stay under the letter of the law.
America’s asylum system was built for a world that no longer exists.
Kevin was a college student once. In oil-rich Venezuela, he studied petroleum engineering but had to drop out as it became too expensive. He worked and saved, but he said Venezuela’s failing economy eventually caught up to him.
“Things started worsening and I had to close my business, I had to sell my car,” he told us. “Everything ends.”