Midtown is where a new start for Alejandra Altuve and her mother begins.
Altuve, an 18-year-old from Venezuela, arrived in New York City two months ago after a harrowing six-month journey to the United States.
Altuve’s saga began in September 2021 when her brother decided he was going to leave their home in Venezuela amid political unrest.
She decided to join her older sibling and just as their plans were coming together, their mother, Yenny, joined too.
What You Need To Know
- NY1 sat down with 18-year-old Alejandra Altuve to talk about her journey to seek asylum in the U.S.
- Altuve and her mother arrived in New York about two months ago and have since started to adapt to the city
- It took Altuve and her mother about six months to cross into the U.S. after being processed and allowed to seek asylum going through the jungle and many Central American countries on the journey
“Once the day we planned to leave got closer and we began to sell our little things for the trip…she was like, ‘Really? No, I’m going with you guys. I can’t leave you guys. I am not going to be able to take the pressure of days not knowing what going on how the trip is going,’” she said in Spanish.
The family’s journey included passing through the treacherous Darien Gap — a six-day roadless route that tested the family’s survival.
“That is when we entered the forest. We spent six days in the forest. The last day was terror because we ran out of food. The only thing we had was Tang…” said the teen about not having food. “We ate that, not making it into a juice but eating it because we needed food. It was horrible.”
Altuve said her family was blessed as they avoided being robbed — or worse.
But the family had one setback.
In October, one month after first beginning their journey, they had to return to Costa Rica amid limited pathways to the United States.
At that point in the trip, the family of three split up. Altuve decided to stay with her mother and return to Costa Rica and her brother chose to go on without them.
Altuve and her mom resumed their journey in late January and arrived in Mexico in February.
Living in Mexico was a new experience for the family, including dealing with drug cartels.
“It is really hard. One lives more in the mountains than in the streets,” said Altuve, describing her life in Mexico. “The thing about the cartels, one comes with a fear that they are going to kidnap you. One walks around on the defensive.”
The next hurdle for the duo was navigating the complicated process of using the app known as CBP One, an application U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched in 2020 aimed at streamlining the asylum process.
The app is the main tool migrants used to get coveted U.S. immigration appointments before being allowed to cross into the country and seek asylum.
But getting an appointment is not easy. The app is known for glitches and malfunctioning.
Altuve said it took many tries before the app finally worked for her and her mother.
“There with the situation of the appointment, working towards it every day. Getting up early in the morning, at two in the morning, at seven, at three, to get an appointment and thanks to the lord we got one,” said Altuve.
Three weeks later, Altuve and her mother finally secured an appointment through the app in Laredo, Texas, where they were processed and crossed into the country. The two were given one year to submit their asylum application.
From there, the mother and daughter spent a couple of days in San Antonio before choosing to come to New York, where they were set to reunite with her brother.
The first days in the city were tough on the teenager, who stayed in her hotel room crying day and night.
“The first couple of days, it was really complicated because we went to the city with nothing. With nothing. The journey in the forest one had to let go of absolutely everything because even a needle weighed too much,” said Altuve. “Some people get here and have no support, they don’t know anyone. You get here to the room, close the door and just stay there.”
One glimmer of hope for the teenager and her mother has been Aids for Life, a local organization that has been collecting donations and helping migrants adjust to life in the city.
Altuve says now that she has made it to New York and started somewhat of a life with her mother, she wants to help other migrants.
“These are the donations that people give us. We then note the sizes,” said Altuve.
Every Wednesday, she volunteers alongside her mother, helping migrants connect to services and care.
Altuve emphasized that migrants coming to New York need help and are looking to become successful members of society.
“From the first day that I went to one of the cookouts, I wanted to serve as a volunteer because it’s beautiful seeing the support, seeing the community and feeling supported by other people,” the Venezuelan said about the help she received through Aid For Life.
In the two months since arriving, Altuve and her mother now venture out regularly to the laundromat, to the local church for free English classes and local shops.
Altuve says she has dreams of being able to settle down and go to school one day with the hopes of studying psychology.
She also hopes to be reunited with her father, who she left behind.
“My greatest dream would be to secure my life here. Get my paperwork in order and see my family again, see my dad again,” Altuve told NY1 with tears in her eyes.
Altuve said she and her mother are currently getting legal help to navigate the asylum process.
The teenager and her mom are just two of the over 70,000 migrants that have come to the city with a dream and the clothes on their back.
Those looking to help newly arrived migrants can reach out to Aid for Aids the umbrella organization of Aid for Life here.