Asylum seekers injured or tortured

‘These are some really beautiful, beautiful human beings and were treated so badly.’

The refugees' journey to the U.S. was full of danger and hardship; accounts of this came to light during their stay at St. Andrew's Church. — Rich Saltzberg

Some of the asylum seekers duped into boarding airplanes that eventually landed at Martha’s  Vineyard Airport suffered injuries on the long journey to and over the U.S. border with Mexico. One man was reportedly tortured along the way. 

Sergio Racig, an immigrant from South America who has gained his U.S. citizenship, volunteered at St. Andrews Church Wednesday evening and spent the night with a group of refugee men he described as being in their 20s and 30s. The men were tired, uncertain of what was next, and eager to work, Racig said.

“What they had to go through is horrible,” Racig said of their trek to the United States. 

One man, he said, was taken away in an ambulance due to injuries he suffered at the hands of Mexican gangsters, Racig said.

“So he told me that he was kidnapped in Mexico,” Racig said. “The cartels kidnapped him and he was tortured. He didn’t say why. But it was really sad. That’s why they called in the ambulance to treat him. He had a broken jaw, missing teeth, he was cut…”

Racig said the man had difficulty sleeping and eating. 

Racig also said he received psychological support through an interpreter.

“He was broken,” Racig said. “He was crying.”

Lisa Belcastro of Harbor Homes, a volunteer like Racig, said she mustered the ambulance for the man who ultimately received X-rays and hospital care. 

Belcastro expressed disgust at not only the political scheme the migrants were caught up in but at what she called the “inhumanity” of those planners, especially in relation to the tortured man — that they “did not see to his healthcare needs.”

Racig emphasized the journey people take to get out of South and Central America is full of threats: gangsters, rapists, deserts, even the Rio Grande. 

Racig said it’s a very lucrative criminal enterprise to prey on migrants, second only to the drug trade. He also said if cartels don’t get paid for passage over the border, it can mean death. 

“Sometimes you find a group of 50 people dead because they are not paying,” he said. 

Chappaquiddick attorney Rachel Self, who is part of a team of attorneys working on behalf of the asylum seekers, said there are both dangers at home and dangers on the road for these people.

“It is not at all uncommon when people make the journey to get here [that] they are fleeing extreme violence, they are fleeing tortuous conditions,” Self said. “There’s a reason people on foot decide it’s time to start walking through ten countries to seek safety.”

Along the way, Self said they present a “very ripe opportunity” for criminals.

“The issue is much more complex than we believe,” Racig said. “The issue doesn’t start on our border, on the US border, the issue starts in their own countries, Argentina, Venezuela, Columbia.” Racig added they leave because they have “no future” there.

J. Larkin Stallings, who along with his wife Jackie Stallings, a fluent Spanish speaker, volunteered at the church during the asylum seekers stay, said he and Jackie made “very personal and meaningful connections.”

However wonderful the asylum seekers were, Larkin noted there were dark undertones stemming from their journeys and how they had been treated. 

Larkin said his wife worked with women who had “pictures of dead bodies stuck in mud” and had seen “things that most human beings don’t encounter.”

Belcastro said somewhere along the journey, some people appear to have perished in mudslides. 

Larkin said the volunteers brought in professionals and did medical assessments of the asylum seekers — ”something Texas didn’t bother with.”

He said the man who’d been tortured and had his teeth pulled out had a “horribly” broken jaw and was in “extreme pain.’

During their journey, Larkin said, some men jumped a train coming out of Guatemala. One man who jumped on the train got a bolt through his leg, he said. He had a visible scar and a probable bone break and wore a brace. 

“He didn’t want treatment,” Larkin said. 

Along with the man with the broken jaw, another person taken to the hospital was a feverish child. “We had a young child who was presenting with a really bad fever, “ he said. The child tested negative for COVID, as did all the migrants and refugees. One of the cast or production staff from Burning Patience, who he said had also come to volunteer, went to the hospital with the child where the fever was suppressed and antibiotics were administered. 

Larkin said he later saw the child back and playing.

Edgartown Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer confirmed two people were transported from the church during the stay of the asylum seekers, one for an “illness” and one for “injuries sustained prior to their arrival.” Chief Schaeffer said he was unable to elaborate more. 

Larkin said the journey these folks take is beyond everyday comprehension. 

“I do think there’s any way for us, those who haven’t been in that situation, to really comprehend how arduous we’re talking about,” he said. “What would drive you to go on maybe a 50/50 bet that you could make it — a 1,000 mile trek on foot — knowing that there were bandits and cartels and all the things that you knew would be along the way. And you had to go through the swamps of friggin Panama — how bad would it have to be in your home to make that trip? That’s an honest question that all of us have to ask ourselves. Because the reality is it would have to be pretty god damn bad, right?”

Larkin went on to say, “that was not a decision made lightly by these folks — these are people who made life and death choices because the options to stay were—death.”

Racig said it weighed on the asylum seekers the first night that they had no idea what was next or where they were going. 

“I think that was the worst part,” he said. “Nobody knew. And we didn’t know. They didn’t know.”

Racig said the whole episode spoke of a terribly broken immigration system. 

“These are some really beautiful, beautiful human beings and were treated so badly and were so disappointed that what they were told in Texas turned out not to be true,” Larkin said. 

He emphasized they really wanted to go to work.

“When they finally caught on that they’d been played, the look in their eyes was heartbreaking,” he said. 


  1. These are sad stories that did not need to happen if Biden let the world know the border is closed. These poor people are all making the journey as they know they can cross in with out an issue. This is all on the hands of the Democrats and we have to clean up the mess. Please tell me how this is humane to encourage people to make this journey. Shame on our country and those who think the borders should be open to all and anyone. We can and should help but this is not the way.

    • The border isn’t closed to people seeking asylum through the proper legal process, as I understand these people were.

    • It is evident that you possess no understanding of the situation or the horrors these people face in their own countries. They came all the time Trump was president and they’ll keep coming no matter who else gets in or what border policies are enacted. If you want them to stop coming, then you have to get on board with the US helping to stabilize these countries.

  2. Some would have us think that Biden has an open border policy and is encouraging people to take the dangerous journey to get here.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    If asylum seekers do indeed think they will be welcomed in and given everything they need, they are probably getting that idea from fox “news”. The multi millionaire “hosts” are so convincing in their proclamations about the “open border” and their claims that migrants get everything for free, they manage to convince millions of Americans that is the truth.
    Why wouldn’t desperate people from Venezuela believe it also.
    They certainly don’t get that idea from the federal government.
    The federal government is currently following the laws that congress has put into place over decades.

  3. I will once again demonstrate how foolish I am, and direct a question to those who I think sincerely believe the border is “open” and if a person illegally enters the country they will get all the benefits of U.S citizen– and maybe even more.
    If that is the case,
    Why are people downing while trying to swim across the Rio Grande ?
    Why are they climbing an “unscalable” border wall, and risking life and limb to do it ?
    Why are they dying while attempting to cross miles of brutally hot sections of desert ?
    Why are they willing to risk their lives and allow “coyotes” to lock them in large trucks?
    Why don’t they just walk across any of the hundreds of bridges and accept the flowers and ice cold lemonade ?
    I am foolish all right– I have some sort of hope that someone will be able to answer those questions.
    Actuall, I don’t have any hope that those questions will be answered by anything other than typical right wing claptrap and insults.

  4. I would like to hear what you think would be the best way to handle these people fleeing the dangers in their own countries.

    • How about a foreign policy to help stabilize their countries, which we are responsible for destabilizing? Isn’t that why they’re coming here in the first place? I haven’t seen this idea proposed by republicans at any point in, at least, the last two decades. Do correct me if I am wrong.

    • Help them set up a government and military, with checks and balances, to keep stability in their countries. That is the best way to help. Stop the problem at its source. Treat the cause, not just the symptom.

      • The idea of helping countries is one I agree with.
        But that kind of money and policy has to get through congress.
        We have one party that would never approve such a rational strategy.
        They would rather spend countless billions on such ineffective things as walls.
        I really wonder why the news media — particularly fox “news” is not hyping the story the the great impenetrable wall that cannot be scaled has been breached over 3,000 times in the last year.
        Where is the outrage at the ineffectiveness of that fiasco ?

  5. Shame on you. Blame tells more about you. For 10,000 years the first light people enjoyed this beautiful island, and I doubt they encouraged you to come, and decide who should come and who should not.

  6. Is anyone watching Ken Burn’s “The US and the Holocaust”?

    US quotas, US strict immigration restrictions for asylum seekers, US prejudices, and US Jim Crow laws helped Hitler shape his plot. We, America in the early 20th century, wrote the playbook for Nazis. At the time under Roosevelt, the majority of Americans and many Christian clergy and political leaders were all against taking in immigrants, especially of a certain ilk, and for exactly the same reasons as we hear from those against helping asylum seekers, now.

    America is failing miserably in living up to its ideals. The repeated reactions and comments here to the 50 Venezuelans make me scared for my grandchildren. Never been more ashamed of who so many Americans really are. Nothing has changed. Nothing.

  7. Reading the above ignorant comments just shows me how brainwashed this island is and is a lost cause. It really is not worth my time to try and convinced the leftist zealous on the island that words have meanings and just because it is said does not mean it’s true. Just look at Biden and his so-called inflation reduction act which is helping to bury this country in debt and going to do nothing for helping inflation. But hey it all sounds good.

    • If it’s not worth your time to comment here why do you do it ? I am sure it will be worth your time to go to fox news and get lots of likes.Feeding your ego is what it’s all about, right ? But you could have answered my questions about why people take extreme risks to enter this country rather than just walk across the “open border” .
      Come on– let’s have a real debate.

    • Bob, if you want people to enter the U.S. legally, why not take a stand against this scheme and those who carried it out? An attorney has said that individuals seeking asylum were assigned false addresses, even after they objected.

      Paperwork needs to be truthful in order to be of use. I don’t see how anyone can excuse or ignore that factor if the goal is adherence to a lawful process.

  8. I am appalled by the lack of compassion expressed on this issue, as shown by the nasty words and deliberate lies being thrown around.
    1. “…they were duped into boarding airplanes…”
    No they were not “duped” – they were offered help from a compassionate woman who took pity on them and went to extraordinary efforts to get funding for moving them to a hotel and hiring a private plane to take them out of there, to a place that she knew would have far better resources for housing, schools, work and medical care. Let’s face it, Texas is totally overwhelmed by the many thousands who are running for their lives to seek safety.

    2. “…Belcastro expressed disgust at not only the political scheme the migrants were caught up in but at what she called the “inhumanity” of those planners…”
    “A political scheme” – and “disgusted by the inhumanity shown” – Really?
    On the contrary, Gov. DeSantis knows full well that the asylum seekers will be much better off in places that are not overwhelmed like Texas, and that have declared themselves sanctuaries for exactly such people. And he knew that the man who needed difficult surgery could not get adequate care in the heavily overcrowded Texas hospitals, and would be much better off on the Vineyard.

    3. “…Nobody knew. And we didn’t know. They didn’t know … I think that was the worst part,” said Racig, – “they were so disappointed that what they were told in Texas turned out not to be true..”
    Are you kidding? The fact is that what Perla said was and is and will be totally true.

    4. “… When they finally caught on that they’d been played, the look in their eyes was heartbreaking,” said Larkin.
    They had been played??!! – shame on those who totally twist the story to fit their own political bias.
    The fact is that what they were told WAS completely true, wasn’t it? They WILL get the housing, work, the clothes, toys, school, medical treatment and everything else they will need in order to help them set up their new lives. I hope someone had the sense to reassure them immediately after they landed: don’t worry, you are all safe now – that wonderful woman who saved you in Texas, Perla, she did tell you the honest truth: she knew that you WILL get everything you need, including housing and jobs. It may take a little while, but in the meantime, you will all have everything you need right here – you will be safe here, and also in many other places in the US where you may choose to live.

    There will be many many more asylum seekers coming, and we’d better take good care of them, because the US is pretty much to blame for their misery, as we can clearly see when we follow the trail back to when the violence and prosecutions first kicked in big time (in the 70s?), with the US anti-communism policies destroying their democracies, and the protection of US business interests in those countries (Banana Republics), and the violent drug wars aided and abetted by corrupt US politicians – then we understand who lies behind the deadly breakdown of all those societies.
    We have met the enemy – and it is us.

    • Where is your proof for any of this? Thank god no one listened to your ideas about the school. Not even Desantis’ supporters think he did this out of compassion. They just appreciate the troll job. This is truly a disturbing take on this situation.

      • I have been in construction for 36 years. I have reviewed, bid on and built many muti million dollar houses on this island.
        I spent about an hour sitting in Anna’s living room going over her plans about a month ago. I thought her plans were clear, well thought out and offered many good ideas.
        Did you ?
        I actually know you didn’t.
        I find it quite disturbing that you would throw such an ignorant cheap shot at the person you were presumably addressing.
        Her opinion about the legal migrants has nothing to do with her efforts to provide an alternative to the proposed school.
        I am quite surprised that the moderator even let that stand.

    • Anna, where ARE you getting your information? The Vineyard doesn’t have the resources these migrants need, and why wasn’t anyone here informed that they were coming? Why the videographer, whose recording went only to Fox “News”? Why did Gov. DeSantis lure these people out of Texas, for heaven’s sake? Why has “Perla” disappeared without trace? Do you see anything in DeSantis’s rhetoric that suggests he has the best interests of the migrants — or any non-white people — at heart?

      • Let me step in and explain cryptic 101 to you..
        The enemy is the 20 % here who think the 20 20 election was stolen, the 20% who think the border is open, and the 20% that think people who are fleeing totalitarian regimes are a threat to our society.
        They are also the 40% of the population that own 90 % of the guns in America, and frequently espouse the idea that the border problem can be solved with lead . Sorry, Beka, think about it for a few seconds– The enemy is right wing nut cases armed with their weapons of war who are quite willing to use those weapons to promote the ideology of the fourth reich.

        • Don- I personally have no enemies. To vilify fellow Americans who think quite differently from me , just exasperates the divide. How about some solutions. Sanctuary state should be building housing ,training centers and schools for asylum seekers and migrants seeking economic opportunities. Border States have an overwhelming problem. Name calling helps no one.

          • It’s a bit sad to have to point this out, but prior to the 2016 election, I did not see so much name-calling related to politics. I was called a “snowflake” because I expressed my comcerns that Trump would be an inadequate president- and he was. Trump’s fans and followers see kindness as weakness. They cannot make the distinction. Since then, I’ve been called a “traitor” for speaking out against migrant families being separated, reaffirming that Black lives matter, and worse. There’s a difference between “thinking differently” and being overtly racist. That does not, however, mean that the right is exclusively racist or that the left is not part of the systems of institutionalized racism and white supremacy by which people of color are victimized and oppressed. Said oppression and victimization is designed to be invisible to those who benefit from it. I seek to dismantle white supremacy, and that inevitably starts with myself. That said, what are the border states dealing with, and how is it affecting them? How does the problem manifest itself? I’m trying to understand what the issue is, but so far I have found no one who is able or willing to articulate/explain exactly what the problem is and why it matters.

        • They are also the ones who take advantage of the poor, powerless and easily manipulated single (female) parents offering one thing and then giving them another. Even trying to get sexual opportunities for more money.
          Sick people.
          I know about several here who have done just this. Taking advantage of less educated adults who still believe in handshakes not knowing they are being taken advantage of.

  9. It warms my heart to see so many Islanders extend a helping hand to these escapees from Communism.
    The rehtoric of the 20% of the Island that voted for Trump breaks my heart.
    If the election were held today would Trump even make into a double digit percentage?

    • Albert, he would, as much as it infuriates me. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers. While many have disavowed Trump, there are still plenty who are desperately clinging on.

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