Jose arrived at Vive's shelter for asylum seekers in Buffalo at 6 a.m. March 28, after a 15-hour trip by two buses and a taxi from Maryland.
“I was maybe a little scared,” the 25-year-old said. “I don’t know. I just put my faith in Jesus. I knew he was going to protect me.”
He was scared because he did not have legal status in the U.S., having overstayed a tourist visa a little over two years ago.
He shared his story with The Buffalo News but declined to give his full name, worried about what could happen to him if his bid for asylum in Canada was denied.
“I couldn’t come back to my country,” Jose said.
Jose grew up in Sonsonate in western El Salvador.
“Where I lived was a beautiful place,” he said. “Like 15 minutes to the beach and 15 minutes to the mountains.”
It’s also one of the most violent areas in the country.
InSight Crime, a website that tracks organized crime in Latin America, said in a 2011 article that Sonsonate had the highest murder rate in El Salvador.
Jose came to the U.S. to visit his mother, who had moved to Maryland and married a U.S. citizen, which allowed her and her daughter, a minor, to get permanent residency – a green card. Jose was already an adult, which meant he did not qualify and would have to wait seven to eight years to get permanent residence, he said.
“In that time, I could be deported,” he said.
With a background in the culinary arts, Jose worked in restaurants. For two years, he paid taxes which allowed him to apply for a driver’s license under Maryland law. He was paid under the table for his last job as a chef.
Jose said he wanted to stay in the U.S. but he grew afraid after President Trump’s inauguration and the executive orders on immigration that followed.
“I need to get out,” he said. “I need to get to a place where I will be safe.”
His family decided he should go to Hamilton, Ont., to live with his aunt.
The day he left Maryland, his little sister, who is 8, handed him a sparkly blue rubber bracelet, shaped like a heart. He tried to put it on but it was too small.
“But she told me: Just keep it. It is from me to you. When you saw that you will know that I miss you,” Jose said.
He had it tucked inside his backpack, one of the few possessions he brought with him on his journey to his new life.
“They think you are bad,” he said of anti-immigrant Americans. “The only thing that I did was work and try to have a regular life. You cannot do that anymore. Because you go outside, you are afraid. They can stop you and maybe deport you.”