Edgar made his journey through Mexico as part of a migrant caravan in the spring of 2018 after deciding to leave his home in Honduras because of the persecution that comes with being part of the LGBTQ and activist communities there. He is also a former detainee who spent five months and 11 days locked up in the Otay Mesa Detention Center, a CoreCivic-owned and operated for-profit prison a few miles north of the border in San Diego while his asylum process played out.
Since leaving Honduras in March 2018, Edgar's activism has continued, even during the time he was in the Otay center. He and other young men there decided to organize themselves in an effort to draw attention to the abuses and inhumane conditions they were living through.
Edgar has kept busy the last couple of years since his release by continuing to organize with fellow former caravan members to share their experience and bring awareness to the complicated and often difficult realities they face while trying to begin a new life in the United States. He recently began working on a documentary centered around his experience in detention and has also joined local efforts to raise money and supplies for those affected by the recent hurricanes that devastated many parts of Honduras and Central America and will most likely force thousands more to leave the region.
Q: Did you have a specific goal when you decided to leave Honduras?
A: The anguish of leaving my country was so strong, I didn’t have an objective. My objective was literally to leave Honduras, leave aside all of the abuses, mistreatment, since I was mistreated by the Honduran government. I was attacked many times by the police in Honduras and so, I think the fear of leaving was stronger and in that moment my only objective was to leave Honduras and step foot in another country where I would feel safe.
I am part of the LGBTQ community, and also part of a political party. Since I come from a political family, I have always been focused on activism work. We opposed the party that is currently ruling in Honduras. And because of that I received many threats.
Q: How and why did you decide to organize while you were detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center?
A: Organizing inside the detention center, more than anything, is about saving your own life yourself. The management that the detention centers have, they are designed to tempt you to not assert your rights as a detainee, as a migrant or as an LGBT person.
So our only objective was to know and defend our own rights. So we would get together in a group to understand what were our rights. When we realized our rights as migrants, as detainees, to have fair treatment regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity was when we decided that it was time to take action. So with a group of three other young people who were also part of the Via Crucis (Migrant Way of the Cross) migrant caravan, we decided to organize ourselves and write a declaration statement in which we listed our different demands and what we were living through inside the detention center.
For example, one of those was the forced labor abuse we endured inside the detention center where we worked for a period of more than 11 or 12 hours a day, seven days a week for a pay of $1.50. At the end of the week it wouldn’t reflect what we actually worked. And many of us worked out of necessity just to call our families since many of us hadn't had contact with them since we arrived at the detention center and our families don’t know anything about us. That's the reason we decided to work voluntarily and then they made us sign a contract, but after some days it becomes somewhat forced.
Then, the medical negligence that we live through inside the detention center gets worse every time. We don’t have medical support. We don't have the necessary medical attention that we deserve and for that reason, we put out that statement. We didn't have the medical support we needed as detainees. We had no one to turn to if we were attacked by the officers of the administrative agencies (CoreCivic and ICE) that are designed to protect us. Who were we going to go to to protect us if that's what they're supposedly there for, but instead were attacking us?
Q: What was it like for you when you being released from the detention center?
A: Well, the first days after leaving the detention center were very terrible days for me since I left with all the trauma from just being in the detention center. I was released into a country where I didn't know the language, didn't know anyone, or at least, at that time I didn't have the support of my family.
The only support I had was from the different organizations that supported me when I was released from the detention center. The worst trauma was leaving the detention center and being in a country where I had no family support. Just that of the different organizations. I also had psychological help. I got psychological help for a period of two months because I was released with an order from the detention center that I needed therapy for the trauma I experienced there.
(Edgar has remained active since being released from the detention center in 2018. For instance, in the spring of 2020, once the pandemic reached San Diego, he helped organize rallies outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center to demand the release of those detained and prevent the spread of the virus and potential deaths.)
Q: What drives you to stay active and and keep supporting those who are currently detained?
A: Well, as I mentioned before, I come from a country where I was an activist, and then coming to this country and having lived through what I lived through as a detainee, I understood that you are your own voice, and the organizations are also your voice. They’re the ones who support you. So for that reason I said OK, as a former detainee, it is time for me to raise my voice and start speaking up for those people who are detained and who cannot be heard, just as I was once.
So, for that reason I have focused on continuing, on continuing to emphasize the abuses that are experienced inside the detention center and, well, above all, not remain silent. Not only for me. I am already free, it is true, but I know that behind me there are more people, there are more communities that are suffering what I suffered at one point.
Q: What has life been like for you these past two-plus years?
A: Well, starting with when I left the detention center. Life was very hard for me, as I mentioned, in a country where I did not have the support of my family, I did not have the support of anyone other than organizations. I was in a shelter in New York City for a period of two months. I didn’t have a job because I did not have a work permit. Then, I began working in a bakery, I remember, so I could get ahead and survive in New York City. It is a very large city where the main language is English and to begin with, my life was very hard. Then I started connecting with different organizations such as Pueblo sin Fronteras and Carecen, which are two organizations that I have collaborated with. Then I started to work with my work permit, and began filing taxes in this country.
Next, one of the achievements and something that has filled me with great satisfaction is being able to go to places where I did not imagine I would be able to go. Like last year, I had the opportunity to visit Congress to speak with legislators, with senators and be able to personally explain to them what it’s like and what we go through as detainees. So I took advantage of that moment so that they really understand what I experienced and is being experienced by many people, and that the administrative agencies like ICE and CoreCivic, and all those private companies try to hide everything and only show the other side of the coin, but not actually showing what we go through as detainees.
And then, we have been working together with different organizations, doing actions outside the detention center, sending letters to detainees, trying to help people with bonds, (help) people financially so that they can eat inside the detention center, and have communication with their families. So that is something that fills me with great joy, knowing that once I, as a detainee, could not do anything. But now I am out here doing everything on my part with the different organizations to be able to listen to the voices of those people who are there, they are voices that are silenced, voices that they let silence and do not want them to speak up.