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Traveling, Courage And Acts Of Kindness: A Human Story Of Illegal Border Crossing


For much of the past year, the story of people trying to cross the border into the U.S. has been largely a political one. Often lost in the coverage are the stories of individuals who've risked everything to come to America. Writer Peter Behrens tells us about one man who made the trip in late 2017. For reasons that will be clear, in this next story, we are only identifying him by his first name.

PETER BEHRENS: The story begins in West Texas. His name is Bartolo. He was 22. He seemed younger. He'd already come about 2,000 miles when two quail hunters discovered him sheltering in a hunting cabin in the giant emptiness of the West Texas desert.

He spoke some Spanish, and so did they. But his first language was Ki'che' and theirs was English. He was from Guatemala, heading for Houston. Shivering, he asked the hunters to point him in the right direction.

This is a story about someone who broke the law to enter our country illegally, and maybe you have a problem with that. It is also a story about hard traveling, courage and acts of kindness.

The quail hunters were Texas men with weapons, boots, ammunition and ATVs. Bartolo had the cheapest version of a backpack any kid might carry to school, a bottle of water and a goal to work construction in Houston for two years then return to his wife and child in the highlands of Guatemala and open a tienda, a village store.

The hunters gave him one hundred dollars and pointed him north. The next day, Bartolo stumbled out of the desert onto a ranch road. Ranches out there are miles apart, no trees - the wind and the sky. You can see or be seen for miles. Maybe 25 percent of the sparse traffic on that road is Border Patrol. Bartolo should have been caught. He was young and not wily, determined, but naive. His grasp of geography was limited.

But a few townspeople run or bike out that way. The wind is fierce, but the light is stunning. And that morning, a runner spotted Bartolo, brought him home and sheltered him for two days while calling around to locate a safe ride out of the borderland.

My friends were planning a trip to Dallas with their kids to visit grandparents when they got the call. How did you feel about being asked, I asked them. Proud and happy, my friend replied So two parents, two almost teenagers, Bartolo and nine hours across Texas in the family SUV. Using my friend's phone, Bartolo spoke to his wife. There were other calls in Spanish, English and Ki'che' as rides from Dallas to Houston kept falling through.

It was late when they reached Dallas. Dinner was Thai takeout in a windowless common room at the grandparents' retirement community. Then my friend drove Bartolo to a gas station on the outskirts to meet his Houston ride. Saying goodbye, Bartolo tried to offer my friend that one hundred dollars the quail hunters had given him.

A couple of weeks later, he called to say he'd found a construction job. Two years, he reminded them. Two years, then he'd be going home. How did you feel, I asked my friends. Proud and happy, they said. We want to educate our children. He is coming here for a better life for his family and to make money.

How American, they said.


KELLY: That commentary by writer Peter Behrens. His most recent novel is "Carry Me."


Peter Behrens