SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — In early December of last year, Nabeel Younis and a group of friends loaded onto a semi-truck for a ride from the Mexico-Guatemala border to the Mexico City area.
They would not drink any water, eat any food or get a bathroom break over the next 16 hours.
And they would stand the entire time.
“We were just standing in that trailer. … If the trailer turned to one side everyone else turned to one side,” said Younis. “It was so difficult to breathe in there. I still remember a lot of people were passing out. I had one of my friends who passed out almost three different times.”
Younis recalled his ordeal Tuesday morning as he got ready to go to school in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where he now lives with a sponsor and where he has begun taking college courses.
“It was so difficult to breathe because there was no way of getting oxygen and the person standing next to you was so close you could not expand your chest properly to breathe out and breathe in,” he said.
Younis admitted not knowing much about an incident in San Antonio in which 51 migrants died after being abandoned inside a hot trailer but expressed deep sorrow upon hearing the details. It all hit home, he said.
“My friends often say that they have never seen death so close than when they were in that trailer,” Younis said.
Younis, who is Catholic, fled Pakistan three and a half years ago and traveled to Panama.
After spending about two years working there and saving money, he and his friends decided to head north across Central America to Mexico.
About six months ago, they paid a smuggler to transport them in the trailer, a ride Younis will not soon forget.
“It was horrible because there were a lot of people there, more than 300 people and it was so difficult we could not even breathe properly,” he said.
Days later, another trailer truck filled with migrants made the same trek, but never made it to its destination.
The rig overturned hitting a concrete barrier killing 55 migrants and injuring 105 people.
Younis’ request for asylum based on religious persecution back in Pakistan is now making its way through the U.S. court system in California.
“It’s only been three or four months that I’m here in the U.S. and I can say, I can see why they say America is the land of dreams, people suffer so much in their own countries they would do anything to get to the American border,” said Younis.