Richard* and his wife Anna* fled Cuba in April of 2019 with the hopes of reaching Brazil to start a new life.
They traveled 2,008 miles to Guyana by plane and immediately made their way to Brazil after landing. They traveled 185 miles by bus and on foot to get to Boa Vista, Brazil. They then relocated to São José Dos Pinhais by bus, traveling 2,104 miles to finally start their lives over.
For almost two years, Richard and Anna tried to restart their lives and put down roots in Brazil, working to support themselves. In January of 2021, they had a beautiful baby girl named Adriana, changing their lives forever.* They quickly realized that Brazil was not the place to raise Adrianna for many reasons. Both parents had experienced discrimination and racism on a daily basis that significantly impacted their safety and quality of life.
After a few months of discussing their options, Richard and Anna made the difficult decision to uproot their lives again and leave Brazil to give Adriana a better life. In April of 2021, the entire family began their long journey to the US.
Carrying their three month-old daughter, Richard and Anna traveled through the Darién Gap, a small strip of land that connects Colombia to Panamá.
Baby Adriana before leaving Brazil
Crossing the Darién Gap is already incredibly dangerous - even without a three month old. The Darién is the largest, and most dangerous, migrant crossing in the world. It’s a rainforest with thick vegetation and stagnant pools of water everywhere, making it easy for mosquitoes carrying diseases to breed at a breakneck pace and infect thousands of people a year. As if that’s not bad enough, the obvious lack of shelter and sanitation makes the Darién a place where diseases passed along through human contact thrive. Both the Colombian and Panamanian government have lost complete control over this area of land, with organized criminal groups dominating the territory and controlling the flow of people. Many have reported incredible violence, trafficking, and a host of other crimes, but nothing has been done to stop it.
Richard, Anna, and Adriana in the Darién Gap, resting before continuing their journey.
Last year, a total of 248,000 people crossed the Darién. 20% were children. Of the children, 51% were under the age of 5. This year, 248,000 migrants crossed the Darién by the beginning of August - making 2023 a record-breaking year for migrants crossing the Darién.
Thankfully, Richard and his family made it through the Darién Gap safely and continued their journey north. By August of 2021, 4 months after they left Brazil, they finally reached the US-Mexico border. This branch of the journey was 7,909 miles long.
They crossed the Rio Grande in August of 2021 with a now 8 month-old Adriana and finally arrived in Del Rio, Texas.
Luckily, they had a friend living in Virginia that had agreed to take them in if they could get there. So again they journeyed, adding another 1,619 miles to their already long and exhausting immigration journey.
In October of 2021, Richard met Tori Andrea Babington, the Managing Attorney of Rural Programs at Just Neighbors, and continued his family’s immigration story. But this time, they didn’t have to travel. They just had to get through USCIS. Because of the Cuban Adjustment Act, the family was eligible for permanent residency (green card) but it would take awhile. In fact, it took over a year and a half before they got their hearing to appear before an immigration judge. In the meantime, they had no work authorization and no Social Security numbers. Luckily, they found neighbors willing to help.
The shelter where Richard, Anna, and Adrianna stayed at before crossing the US-Mexico border
Just Neighbors volunteers not only assisted Tori by helping gather all the documents and information they needed to file their immigration application, but the volunteers also connected the family to local resources including medical care, food, diapers, clothing and even tax filing assistance. Finally, all three green cards arrived in the mail in February 2023. 4 years and 15,444 miles later, Richard and his family finally found stability.
Despite the trauma of this journey, Richard wanted to share his journey with others to help people better understand what many immigrants risk to get to the US. He graciously agreed to share some of the photos and videos he took along the way with you, and wants you to know that this is the beginning of his dream. In the next 5 years, Richard hopes to start his own business and give back to the community that took in his family when they first arrived to the US.
From left to right: Richard, Heather (Just Neighbors volunteer), Adriana, Tori Andrea Babington (Just Neighbors Managing Attorney of Rural Programs), and Anna.
Anna and Richard celebrating baby Adriana's second birthday in the US.
*Names changed for privacy reasons