‘‘How do you know they were from the 18th Street Gang?’’ the asylum officer asked during the interview, after Villanueva described the incident.
‘‘They had tattoos with the number on their faces and hands,’’ he said, ‘‘and the walls of their houses are marked with the number.’’
Villanueva later described the torture and murder of the uncle who directed the youth group at his family’s church. In 2013, the uncle disappeared after complaining to the police about the 18th Street Gang harassing the group members. A few days later, his body turned up in the Chamelecón River covered with puncture wounds, which investigators deemed to have been inflicted by an ice pick.
‘‘How do you know the gang is connected to the police?’’ the asylum officer asked.
‘‘Everybody knows that in my country,’’ Villanueva said.
‘‘Your attorney submitted an article that indicates the police captured a leader of the 18th Street Gang,’’ the officer pointed out. ‘‘If the gangs are working with the police, why would the police arrest their leaders?’’
‘‘They arrest people so the community thinks they’re doing something. But then they’re out of jail in a week or two.’’
‘‘Why are they released after a week or two?’’
‘‘This is the question that all of the good people of Honduras ask.’’
‘‘Is there anything else that you’re afraid of in Honduras?’’
‘‘No. Just losing my life.’’
Although the officer found Villanueva credible, she did not consider him eligible for asylum; the immigration judge agreed. Villanueva was sent to Louisiana, where he was loaded onto a plane with more than a hundred other Hondurans. They wore manacles on their wrists and ankles, and their hands were shackled to chains around their waists. Armed guards accompanied them. Midway through the flight, bologna sandwiches and cookies were distributed. They were packaged individually, the sandwiches and cookies. Most of the handcuffed men and women found it easiest to tear the plastic with their teeth.
I continue to be baffled by the ability of so many people to ignore these stories. And I know they're not reading them, because if they did, assuming their heart and their brain is functioning, they wouldn't be capable of such indifference, such animosity, towards the hordes of innocent people who are in need.
America used to be a beacon for those who were willing to leave everything behind for a chance at opportunity and freedom. Now? I just don't know.