Slowly, we started to get pieces of Darwin’s story. As part of building his court case, Darwin’s lawyer had connected him with the Project for Torture Victims. As he worked with the psychologist, Darwin began sharing more of his story.
The first story he began to tell us was about being captured by the cartels. He was tortured, and forced at gunpoint to unload cocaine from light planes landing from Columbia and Venezuela before reloading it onto horses for the trip north. From January through March, we listened as he shared pieces of his experiences, but it wasn’t always easy to understand how they fit together.
As he watched us preparing for Passover, I told Darwin about our seders usually filled with people asking and answering questions about our people’s story long into the night. This year, it would be just two us—or maybe three? We found a haggadah with Spanish translation, and Darwin joined us for the first night. He traveled with us all the way through the first part of the haggadah up to dinner. As we shared the stories and symbolism with him, he shared his own insights about the haggadah, moved by both its universal and particular messages.
Aryeh and I did the second seder ourselves, but Darwin joined us for dinner. Over an extended dinner, Darwin’s story unfolded as he put the pieces together for us. It was a very different haggadah than the night before. The first story he had shared with us came into greater focus now. The organization he worked for sent him to document illegal clear-cutting of the forests, believing that it was being done for cattle-grazing. Darwin discovered that the clear-cutting was actually to create an airstrip for drug trafficking. As he continued, we learned about death squads and assassination lists. He was number eleven and the first nine people had already been killed by the time he tried to come north the first time.
On his second trip north, he ended up in detention between Arizona and Texas for five months. At that time, he was bearing documentation of the connection between the cartels, the police and the army. He was taken to the Honduran consulate for deportation and presented to the Minister of Security, Oscar Alvarez. Not yet understanding that Alvarez was part of the “big mafia,” Darwin handed over the documents—proof of widespread corruption—to Alvarez who told US immigration he would return Darwin safely. Darwin was met at the airport in Honduras at gunpoint by the police who arrested him “for his own protection” and delivered him directly to the cartels for further torture. We were together, in quarantine, over a three-day holiday, so there was a lot of time to sit and talk. At the end of lunch, Aryeh went off for a shabbat nap; Darwin and I remained at the table. We reflected a bit on his journey to LA and to our house and how fortunate we were that life had brought us together. He expressed gratitude for being with us. I returned that we were grateful for his presence in our home. “Es de Dios” he said. I don’t know if it’s from God, but it certainly has felt beshert, “meant to be“.
We also spoke about the uncertainty that lies ahead. Because of COVID-19, Darwin’s court date has been indefinitely postponed. After getting caught up in the courts at Adelanto, his work permit seems like it may finally be on the horizon. He and his lawyer continue to work on research and strategy for his case. A case like his that would, in other times, seem like a slam dunk, is no longer reliably so. The immigration court wants to see evidence, most of which has been erased by the government or no longer exists, and to hear testimony from people who will be killed if they offer it. With Darwin’s case there are many different ways this could go, and we don’t know when the counting will end. He imagined the scenario in which his case moves forward, and he prevails. And then he can prepare to bring his wife and daughters “maybe next year.”
The Omer is complete now, though Darwin is still counting the days until his hearing. And we will continue to count with him. I’m dreaming about a time, if not this year, then the next, when Darwin and his family will be among the guests at our seder, and we can all recite, together, “This year, in Los Angeles.”
Andrea Hodos moved to Los Angeles in 1995 with her husband, Aryeh Cohen, where they raised two children. She is the associate director of NewGround: a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change. Andrea is grateful that life landed them in the City of Angels where they could be part of vibrant Jewish community-building and strong multi-faith coalitions.