In After the buses, Block Club Chicago and Borderless Magazine tracked 10 of the thousands of Venezuelan migrants sent to Chicago this year as part of Texas Gov. Abbott’s policy stunt. Block Club Chicago is a non-profit newsroom focused on Chicago neighborhoods; subscribe to his daily newsletter. Borderless Magazine is a multilingual non-profit newsroom reporting on and with Chicago immigrants; subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
From a shelter on Chicago’s West Side, Denis “Omar” Covis nervously awaited the birth of his daughter in Venezuela this fall. Nearly three thousand miles away, the 26-year-old saw things like baby showers and his kids’ first day of school on his phone. However, he says being away from his children and pregnant wife was not his choice. It was a necessity.
Covis arrived in Chicago in September, flown against his will from Texas after leaving Venezuela. He made the journey mostly on foot, walking through scorching sun, high altitudes, freezing conditions, shallow rivers, dangerous jungles and craggy mountains.
Like many others, he left his home for a chance at a better life.
Since 2014, more than 7 million Venezuelans have fled their country to neighboring countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Driven by violence, lack of medicines and food, an increasing number of Venezuelans have also arrived in the United States in the last two years.
Covis says he came to the United States to provide for his expecting wife, three children and his parents. Back home and living from paycheck to paycheck, Covis has been unable to provide for the basic needs of his family and is hoping for better job opportunities here.
Covis told Borderless Magazine why he had to leave Venezuela and what he hopes to accomplish now that he’s in Chicago.
I was born in the state of Falcon in Venezuela. It is a coastal area full of beaches. I went to school but only managed to finish elementary school. I had to start working at a young age to provide for my family. I am 26 and still work to provide for them.
Growing up, I received some government aid through a boxing scholarship. But when the Venezuelan government started to collapse, all funds earmarked for the sport were taken away.
I had my firstborn with my first wife when I was 18. I loved my family.
Unfortunately, my first daughter died when she was only three years old. She was ill. She had a medical condition and I could not afford to provide for her medical needs. I have her name tattooed on her arm. She is a reminder never to forget. My relationship with my first wife did not last after my first born died. So I returned to Venezuela.
Back in Venezuela I worked as a cook on weekends to provide for my parents. That’s where I met my current wife. We have been together for seven years and are about to have our third child. I came here to provide them with a better future, hoping to get a job doing anything. I recently got a job in construction. I will do whatever it takes in this country to bring my family here and take care of them.
I originally took my wife and kids to Ecuador. I had a friend over there in Ecuador who offered me a job. It wasn’t good pay and the promised job didn’t last long. We managed to survive, but living in Ecuador was still very difficult. My kids yelled at me that they wanted things I couldn’t give them. Or they cried because they had nothing to eat. It was difficult to find a job, earn money and pay the rent.
I was tired of not being able to provide for them. So when I learned about the Darien Gap and as the Venezuelans were crossing to the US, I decided to go too. It took me three months.
I took a bus from Ecuador to the Colombian border, another bus to Medellín and a third bus to Necoclí, a place that leads to another island, Capurgana, in Colombia.
I met a mother in the jungle of Peru who was traveling alone and her ten year old daughter. I would carry her daughter on my shoulders and arms back and forth for more than three days. I took her all the way to Panama.
There are many mountains and rivers in Panama. Wherever you go, there are lots of mountains and rivers. It’s been a difficult day.
Crossing the rivers of Peru, the 10-year-old cried and cried in my arms. The river was high and the creek was flowing fast. We even fell together with her in my arms. I remember hitting the river floor hard but I made sure she wasn’t hurt.
When we got to Panama, I was out of money, so I started walking. We hiked in the jungle of Panama for three days. We followed our coyote and other groups on this trip.
In my group there were 60 people from Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Only 59 people arrived at the refugee center. One person died in the jungle. He died while we were climbing a mountain. I saw that he was in a panic and had a heart attack. I saw everything. I knew I had to keep going and get out of there.
I didn’t want to die. I have children. All I could think about were my children.
Surviving on foot in the jungle was the hardest thing.
I ate a lot of canned food. But there was one day when I walked so much that I couldn’t move anymore because I was exhausted. Food weighed me down, I had to eat what I could and leave the rest.
I finally got hungry, I starved for two days. I drank the water from the river and finally, when I left Panama, my stomach hurt because the water was dirty. I did not see her mother or daughter whom I helped across the rivers and mountains after we left Panama.
By then my feet were so swollen that when I sat down I could no longer get up. When it was hot, I could not walk. When it was cold my body ached to the bone.
When I arrived in Mexico, we were arrested by the immigration police. After we were released, we continued walking for two nights and days in a row. Then they held me again for eight days. They wanted to send me back to Guatemala. They took everything I had with me. I thought my journey was over. I had to cross rivers to cross Mexico. I swam while the immigration officers were chasing me. I thank god I was able to make it here alive after crossing over Well done Rio.
Eventually, I made it to Texas, where I was once again detained by the immigration authorities for two days. Then they released me with a temporary permit to be able to stay there. I asked to go to New York, but they put me on a bus to Chicago, and that’s where I stayed.
My trip to the United States took me through nine different countries. I thank God every day that I made it.
Faith is the last thing you lose and I know God gives us many opportunities. As long as I’m alive, I will persevere.
Since Covis first spoke to Borderless, her daughter has been born with complications. He is working to help pay for surgery for his wife who remains in Venezuela.
This story was reported with the help of the Chicago Headline Club Foundation.
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