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A Venezuelan dad made a dangerous trek to the US to provide for his kids. Here’s what he encountered at an El Paso detention center

<i>Norma Galeana/CNN</i><br/>Venezuelan migrant Enderson Amaya Blanco shows bracelets assigned throughout the detention process
Gloria Pazmino/Norma Galeana
Norma Galeana/CNN
Venezuelan migrant Enderson Amaya Blanco shows bracelets assigned throughout the detention process

By Gloria Pazmino and Norma Galeana, CNN

“Welcome to the United States.”

This was the greeting Enderson Amaya Blanco dreamed of hearing after trekking thousands of miles through dangerous and deadly terrain to take his chances at freedom in the US.

The young father is one of thousands of migrants who turned themselves in to border authorities two days before the expiration of Title 42 — a Trump-era policy enacted at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that allowed authorities to quickly expel migrants at US land borders.

Blanco, 21, looks more like a teenager than a father of two young children: thin, with a mop of curls atop his head cut into a mohawk that bounces when he speaks.

He said he decided to risk his life trudging through jungle and desert because he couldn’t feed his children back home in Venezuela.

“My family is why I came, mainly my kids,” Blanco told CNN. “It’s hard to have your children ask for a plate of food and you can’t give it to them.”

So, Blanco and his father-in-law trekked on foot, by train, and sometimes by bus. To sustain themselves, they relied on handouts from kind strangers along the way.

Finally, they reached the gateway to their possible dream: El Paso, Texas. That’s where they slept on the streets for days last week, until they were encouraged to turn themselves in to US Border Patrol enforcement agents.

“We were very afraid. Very afraid,” Blanco said. “We didn’t know if we’re going to be moving forward (or) be sent back.”

Blanco was taken into custody, fingerprinted and then taken to a detention center where he spent four days inside a pen with 433 other men.

“I was number 327,” he said, pointing to his wrist where color-coded bracelets from the detention facility had stacked up.

Blanco said the first thing he and his father-in-law did when they arrived at the detention center was shower. They were then given a change of clothes and a meal (a burrito, an orange and a bottle of water).

“And this, a blanket,” he said, showing an emergency foil blanket still wrapped in a Ziploc bag.

“We just slept curled up, on a little mat for those who got one,” Blanco said. “Some of us just slept on the floor.”

With their destinies in limbo, Blanco and his father-in-law waited in the detention center, which the young man said resembled a jail. They were fed three times a day and were vaccinated against Covid-19 during their stay.

“On the second day, we got a vaccine,” Blanco said. “When you got the vaccine, you got a yellow wristband.”

Then, all he could do was wait.

For several days, Blanco watched some migrants get escorted out of the facility in handcuffs — a telltale sign that they were on their way to be deported.

“Every day there is a list, but what you don’t know is where the list says you’re going,” Blanco said. Some would be allowed to continue their pursuit of the American dream, while others faced imminent deportation.

“We were very nervous. But we distracted ourselves by praying, putting all our faith in God,” Blanco said. “(We) asked Him to intervene because we didn’t want to be deported.”

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it has conducted multiple removal flights since Title 42 expired on Thursday. Flights have gone to Colombia, El Salvador and Honduras as part of the dozens of repatriations conducted by the agency each week, ICE said.

After four days of waiting, Blanco’s name was called from a list Friday. He said he felt “every emotion.”

“When I heard them call me, my heart was just pounding out of my chest,” he said. “I didn’t know. Would it be yes? Would it be no? I wanted to cry and laugh.”

Blanco said he and about 10 others from the list were then placed in another room and told to wait some more. They lined up, single file, with their hands behind their backs.

“We walked past a table that had handcuffs on top of it, and they sat us down,” Blanco said.

“When we saw the handcuffs, we thought they were putting them on us. We thought if the handcuffs go on, that means we’re done. We’re going back.”

That’s when Blanco heard the words he had been dreaming of: “‘Welcome to the United States. Here’s your permit, your papers. You can travel.'”

Blanco’s paperwork says he must appear before a judge at a specific location, which is a requirement before trying to get a work permit, he said.

In the meantime, Blanco needed to figure out how to get basic needs — a place to sleep and a bite to eat.

He had nowhere to sleep that night. Blanco said he would probably sleep on the street next to Sacred Heart church, where thousands of migrants took refuge before Title 42 expired late last week.

He said he would wait for the release of his father-in-law — who was still in the detention center — before coming up with a plan on what to do next.

Blanco also had no cell phone — it was stolen from him when he crossed the treacherous Darien Gap, a 66-mile stretch of mountainous rainforest with no roads connecting South and Central America.

But he said two items given to him at the detention center would help him survive: the emergency foil blanket and an orange he decided to save, just in case.

Blanco said he doesn’t think many people understand what it’s like to be in his dire situation and choose the path he and many others have.

“We struggled for this. Maybe some people think this is easy,” he said. “It’s not easy. You have to live it to understand.”

Blanco is aware of the long legal road ahead as his immigration case moves through the courts. But he hopes to get to Denver — where he heard they had “nice shelters” — and then go to Chicago, where he has friends, Blanco said.

“Just keep working, save enough money for travel tickets,” he said. “Keep going, little by little. And with that permit, I feel … many wonderful things lie ahead.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Holly Yan contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - National

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