Looking back at his childhood, Juan Carlos Cerda is incredibly thankful. He and his parents were smuggled into the U.S. when he was a kid.
“I’m originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I’m incredibly blessed to have grown up in this country,” Cerda said.
But getting across the border and into Texas was far from a certainty.
“I didn’t really understand it completely at the time. I was only 7 years old,” Cerda explained.
He remembers his mother telling him that they were leaving Mexico to join his father in the U.S. They took a car, then a bus, then waited before going across the border in a car with another family.
He knows that his parents paid a hander, commonly called a “coyote,” to smuggle them into the U.S.
“Whatever risk that involved, even if that involved making a deal with a coyote, it’s worth it for family, for a future,” Cerda said.
That’s why, even with a different journey, the 25-year-old can identify with the 39 people found stuffed inside a sweltering semi-trailer in San Antonio on Sunday morning.
“They think everything that this country has to offer is worth the dangerous trek, the dangerous journey that they have to go through,” said Bill Bernstein with Mosaic Family Services, a Dallas-based non-profit that helps survivors of human trafficking.
Many of Bernstein’s cases start with undocumented people believing that they are being smuggled, only to learn that they are not free when they arrive in the U.S.
“It happens because people are in desperate situations. People are starving,” Bernstein explained.
Cerda says that he was lucky. He attended Grand Prairie schools and his parents were with him when he graduated from Yale. But nearly 20 years later, neither he nor his parents have a path to legal status.
He says that he wants to work to change that.
“We need something that really addresses the need for families to be together,” Cerda said.
That change would be for his family, the 11 million others in the U.S. living in the shadows, and those that died trying this weekend.