A Venezuelan family’s harrowing 10-country journey to New York with their Pitbull

A Venezuelan family's harrowing 10-country journey to New York with their Pitbull
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But these days, their relative calm belies a painful journey that began in Lima, Peru, after economic fortunes dried up and the family became the target of xenophobic rants.

Crisman Urbaez told CNN: “The economy in Peru is starting to go down.” “We couldn’t buy much food. There is a lot of xenophobia against Venezuelans in Latin America. Sometimes people insulted us and I wouldn’t want that for my children.”

Using cars for transportation, the family crossed parts of Ecuador and Colombia in late April. Then a four-day trek through the jungles of northern Colombia landed them in Panama.

The couple’s son, Sebastian Urbaez, told CNN that there were times when he was exhausted. In those moments, he said, Max would lie on top of him and lick his cheek to cheer him up.

Sebastian, Krizanelis and Max sleep in Colombia.

“He was very strict. He just kept walking with us. He’s not just a dog. He’s like our brother now,” said 9-year-old Sebastian.

Deciding to take Max to the United States, the family said they put him on several buses, wrapped him in blankets and passed him off as a child.

“Going through Costa Rica was difficult. When they realized Max was a dog, they asked us to get off the bus,” Chrisman said. “But we kept trying.”

After weeks of sleeping in cardboard boxes and traveling safely through Mexico, the family crossed the Rio Grande and surrendered to immigration authorities in Eagle Pass, Texas on June 19.

Seeking asylum and searching for Max

Urbaez family asked for asylum while crossing the border.

But immigration officials refused to admit Max into the country. Anabel was told to think of her children and leave the dog behind.

“But I couldn’t,” said Anabel. “Not after everything he’s been through with our family.”

Sebastian and his 6-year-old sister, Criszanyelis, began to cry as the family begged immigration officials to let them take Max with them, but to no avail.

“There was one officer that I believe God put in our path,” Anabel told CNN. “I’m so grateful for him. He cried a little. Then he told me that he took Max to the shelter and gave me the address of the shelter so that I could go look for him after he was released.”

According to Anabel, the immigration officer recognized Max from articles published by Latin American news outlets covering the family’s extraordinary journey. Mexican news agency “Posta” nicknamed the dog “Migrant dog Max”.

The Urbaez family passes through the Darien Gap.

After he was released, the family went to the dog shelter to get Max. But the shelter told them they were releasing Max to a man who claimed to be related to the family. According to Anabel, the Urbaez family was able to find a fellow migrant who was traveling with her family. He agreed to take Max back if they picked him up in Uvalde, Texas.

With the help of a stranger who offered to give the family a ride, the Urbaezs were reunited with Max the next day.

They later found themselves at Uvalde Memorial Park, where Criszanyelis placed a toy at a memorial for the 21 victims of the shooting at Robb Elementary School, Anabel said.

Urban jungle

After his release from the United States, immigration officials in Texas directed the Urbaez family to a New York shelter and scheduled an appointment with an immigration court.

With Max safe and sound in their custody, the family was now determined to get to New York and face a judge.

With the help of a stranger who encountered the Urbaez stranded at a gas station, the family drove to San Antonio, hoping to find more help there.

In San Antonio, they put on an organization that helps immigrants (Annabel doesn’t remember the name of the group, but all the workers said).

“They helped us and bought us plane tickets to New York, but when they found out we had a dog, they canceled our tickets.” Chrisman said.

The family told CNN that they begged the organization for help and eventually agreed to buy the family bus tickets to New York. The Urbaezs said they were on the road for three days before arriving in New York just before midnight on June 27.

The family arrived at the Port Authority and began seeking asylum, pointed out by immigration officials in Texas. After asking for directions several times, they found a shelter, but Anabel said they were denied entry because the organization only helps survivors of domestic violence, not all families.

The couple said it looked like the family was going to spend the night on the streets until they spoke with the owner of a bodega at 9th Avenue and 39th Street.

When the host heard the family’s story, he offered to let them sleep in the truck for the night.

Texas sends migrants by bus to New York and Washington.  Many are happy to go

“He said he didn’t want anything from me. He said he would let me sleep in his car for the night and help me find a place to go the next day,” Chrisman said.

The next day, the host fed the family and let them hang out at the grocery store.

When local resident and activist Robert Gonzalez stopped by, the bodega owner asked Gonzalez to help the family, Gonzalez told CNN.

Gonzalez, who has helped migrant Venezuelan families for the past two years, asked the bodega owner to take the family to the Office of Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing in the Bronx. But the family was rejected again. No dogs are allowed at the shelter.

Gonzalez then contacted a psychotherapist friend, who helped the family begin the process of registering Max as a service dog so he could join the family at the shelters. In the meantime, she picked up a volunteer, Max, and the family waited the next two days to file paperwork with the city’s homeless shelter.

The family currently resides in a shelter in Bushwick, Brooklyn. And even though they finally have a warm bed to sleep in and are grateful to have gone to the United States, they still feel uncertain.

“Dad can’t work,” Gonzalez said. “Until the next court date, they don’t have a work permit, so they have to rely on people like me who are willing to help. It’s even worse for Venezuelan migrants because they’re orphans in a sense. Venezuela doesn’t have an embassy or consulate. they can flee to the United States if they need to.”

This fall, Sebastian and Criszanyelis Urbaez will be among the nearly 1,000 children of asylum seekers expected to enter a New York City public school as part of the Department of Social Services’ Open Arms project, a city initiative to help asylum seekers. families with academic and language-based needs.

The family’s next court date is in October 2023, when they will find out if they are allowed to work legally.

In an interview with CNN, New York City Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Manuel Castro said the city is asking the federal government to step in and provide the city with additional support and expedite work permits for asylum seekers.

“Most of the families I talk to want to go to work, they don’t want to stay in shelters. They just want to contribute to society, they just want to be at peace,” Castro said.

Meanwhile, Max has become a certified service dog.

“We don’t think of him as just a dog. We see him as part of the family.” Anabel said. “If we left him behind, the children would not forgive us.”

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