Oscar Ramirez looks older than his 30 years. He is reserved and wears a simple blue button-down shirt and jeans. His skin is weathered, and crow's feet frame his dark brown eyes. His nails are bitten down, and his arms are sporadically etched with small, thin scars. Life has been hard for him.
He grew up in a small Honduran village, and has been slowly adjusting to life in the United States since his immigration. His stories of life in Honduras, his journey to the United States, and his life here are common anecdotes within the Honduran-American immigrant community.
Ramirez was educated through the sixth grade, but after leaving school he was almost immediately targeted for gang membership. He says that's something a lot of people don't understand about Honduran gangs -- they target young people, who are less likely to be caught performing petty thefts, robberies, even murder. Young people are more easily manipulated by veteran gang members.
Although he was not interested in gangs, his interest in sports -- and accompanying muscular physique -- as well as his edgy long hair and personable nature made him a prime target for gang membership. Although he was able to avoid the gangs through his teenage years, by the time he was 21, he began receiving death threats for his refusal to join. When he was shot at by gang members, he knew he could no longer stay in his home.
"They wanted to force me to join the gangs, but it's not my intention to be involved with them," he says. "For them, you do it their way or it's the highway. But one just wants to live peacefully, with no threats." Ramirez first made his way to the United States 10 years ago and remained here until in 2010 when his immigration case went before a judge and he was deported to Honduras.
He remained in Honduras for only a few months before gangs again came knocking. Law enforcement did little to help. "You'd call the police and tell them there's a problem, and they'd get there after everything was said and done," he says. "There's no protection." Ramirez and a friend fled in the middle of the night, again fearing for their lives. The two journeyed north on La Bestia, the cargo train that carries many Central American migrants to the United States. Dodging Los Zetas and going sometimes days without food, water or sleep, he made it to the Rio Grande.
There, he and his friend joined a small group of migrants who strung a rope across the river to the American side and dragged themselves across the Rio Grande's speedy current. After making his way to Fort Worth, Ramirez was apprehended by immigration officials and is now making his way through the court system as he seeks asylum.
Unlike the juvenile cases that are speeding through the court system, Ramirez has been afforded years as he waits for his case to be processed. He now lives in Fort Worth and works around the metro area operating heavy machinery for a construction company. Ramirez has since gotten married and has a daughter.
He works long hours but is close to his boss and makes time for his church community. "The community here is very tranquil. I haven't had a lot of problems," he says. Where in Honduras he was afraid to leave the house to go to the grocery store, he says he feels safe here to go about his business and safe to build a family.
He softened when speaking of his wife and family, and wiped away tears as he described his journey to the United States. All of Ramirez's immediate family still live in Honduras, and he sends them money from every paycheck.
His asylum hearing has been delayed, but until a judge makes a definitive decision on his case, his future in the United States -- and the life he has built here -- is uncertain. "This is the only place I've ever known that has protection," he says. "It's a country that respects the law, and has a lot of laws. And I feel safe here. I've always felt protected."