Marlene Trochez, 25, sits with her daughters, Melanie, 4, and Emily, 2, in the migrant camp in Tijuana. The family fled after gang members killed her brother for failing to pay extortion to protect their store. Photo by Patrick Timmons/UPI
TIJUANA, Mexico, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Gangs killed her brother and extorted her family business in Honduras before burning it to the ground. When they threatened her young daughters, Marlene Trochez grabbed them and her husband and joined the migrant caravan to flee San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in the world.
"They told us if we didn't pay, they would kidnap my girls and hurt them. We left in 24 hours and joined the caravan," Trochez said of the gangs. "I believed them because of what they had already done to my brother."
On Wednesday, Trochez, 25, was with her husband, Fernando Sanchez, 25, and daughters, 4-year-old Melanie and 2-year-old Emily at a sports stadium turned migrant camp, just across the U.S. border in Tijuana, Mexico. The family has been there for a week, waiting for the chance to enter the San Ysidro Port of Entry to request asylum from the United States.
The family lives under a black tarpaulin next to the overflowing portable toilets and the water runoff from the eight makeshift standpipes serving as open-air showers for the camp's 6,000 refugees, of whom 1,057 are children, according to Tijuana's municipal authorities.
At night, cold penetrates her body, she says, because of the wind that blows through the camp. Dew covers their makeshift tent when the family wakes in the morning. They warm up during the daytime sun. But Melanie and Emily are sick with colds, suffering from the upper respiratory infections sweeping through the camp.
Trochez spoke to UPI about life in the camp and why she fled Honduras with her family.
For as long as she can remember, her family owned a domestic electrical appliances store and also sold clothes in San Pedro. Her father died in November 2012 of cancer, leaving her mother and five brothers and sisters to run the business. They lived in a "humble house" of three rooms, Trochez said, with two people living in each room.
In 2013, gangs started to threaten the family of merchants, demanding 5,000 lempiras ($200) each month as "a tax," she said.
"It was extortion," Trochez said. "But they didn't charge us when my father was alive."
"My brother Manuel was killed in 2014 by the Calle 18 gang when we didn't pay the extortion. We couldn't put the money together to pay them," she said of her 38-year-old brother who had helped run the store. "First they kidnapped him, then they killed him."
Their mother was bereft. "She never thought that would happen because we had always tried to pay them on time."
The family filed charges with the police when Manuel was kidnapped and murdered but the police did not do anything. Honduran politicians are also corrupt, she said.
"The police work with the gang members, so filing charges put us in real danger. They knew where we lived. Everything."
Even though the family began to pay the gangsters again, the business went sour and they couldn't afford the payments so they had to divide the payments in two for each month and paid every fortnight. But the business didn't make enough money to make those payments.
"We were paying them everything we were making. I didn't even have enough money to pay for school for my daughters. But they still told us we had to pay, and when we didn't they burned the businesses down," she said, showing photos of a burned out store.
"That's when I decided to come here. They told us if they didn't pay, they would kidnap my girls and hurt them."
She said they didn't even take time to file a report with the police.
"Leaving Honduras was totally unplanned," Trochez said. "The gangsters told us that if we did want to start selling things again in the stores they burned we would have to pay the extortions we hadn't paid."
Her mother and sisters do not live in San Pedro Sula anymore, either. Though they did not join the caravan, they fled the family home in fear of the gangsters.
Trochez hasn't been in touch with her mother but receives updates from her sister.
"When I was little, my dream was always to stay with my mother and with the rest of the family, and I just wanted to work in the store," Trochez said, crying. "All I want is the opportunity to apply for political asylum in the United States."
She plans to tell U.S. authorities how her brother was killed and how the gangs threatened her young daughters. Marlene wants to take her family to be with her sister in Louisiana.
Her sister won political asylum because she is a lesbian. "In Honduras they threatened to kill her."
Trochez also has an aunt in Houston.
"I do not want to stay in Mexico," she said. "And we cannot go back to Honduras because the gangs were threatening us. I worry about my mother all the time."
For now, she is waiting at the camp.
"Every day the same struggle repeats itself," she said. "I hope the American people open their hearts and let us in. I just want to work to send money to my mother and so my daughters have a better life."
Migrants wait to apply for U.S. asylum at border
Thousands of women and children were camped at the Benito Juarez shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on November 27, 2018. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo