Story of a mother separated from her son at the US/MX border

family separation

family separation

On Friday, June 22, 2018 the Columban Mission Center received a letter from an immigrant mother separated from her son at the US/MX border. She is trying to request asylum and is currently in detention in El Paso, TX.

Good day, and Blessings.

I am writing to you in order to ask for your help. Days ago, I had my interview and they gave me the answer, but it came out ‘not credible’.* They told me that I am to present myself to the Judge within seven to ten days, but I don’t have a lawyer, nor do I have money to pay for such services. I don’t know what to do. I am extremely desperate. I can’t return to my country, my son and I would be running into danger if I return.

I beg for your help. If it wasn’t for my fear, I wouldn’t be sacrificing my life and that of my child. Give me the opportunity of helping me, I need to speak to someone, to be heard in person.

In my country, where I have my house, I cannot live. I am afraid of the murderers of my husband, of those who killed him. They live there, and I can’t live where my sister lives, either, far away but in the same country, which is the only other place I have lived. I’m afraid that someone will abuse me. I have nowhere to live with my son in my country. That’s why I am begging you to help me.

For this same reason, a family I know, also from my country, and members of my church, are going to receive me [in the U.S.]. I only ask you to help me. What shall I do? I cannot return to my country.

My son’s name is ... Please, my son needs me. I’ve never been apart from him. I beg you to help me. It pains me to be separated from him. I have been both a mother and a father to him. Help me, I beg you.

I’m not lying. If I am here, it is out of fear. I’ve been trying to flee, to save my child and free my parents by sending them something to live on, for five years.

Listen to me, please. Give me the opportunity of explaining.

I will be very grateful.



After reading the letter, Fr. Bob Mosher, a Columban missionary and Director of the Columban Mission Center, arranged to see her. What follows is an account of two of their visit, told from Fr. Bob's perspective. We are not sharing any pictures of her to respect her privacy.

Visit on July 7

I'm just back from visiting a mother separated from her 9-year-old son, who turns 10 on Tuesday. She gets to talk to him over the phone once a week. He's in New York, she's here in the El Paso camp for detained migrants. 

"There's no greater pain," she tells me, tears creeping out from her eyes, slowly running down her cheeks, "than to be apart from your child. We all feel it, all the mothers here who have been separated from their children. It's terrible. There's nothing worse."

We talk about her life before trying to enter the U.S., her murdered husband, her fears for her child if he is forced, with her, to return to Honduras. "I don't want him to grow up there," she tells me. "I'd be afraid for him, for how he would turn out, with so much gang activity there, in every part of my country."

"I'm not here looking for a good time," she added, "or just to travel. I'm not here to sponge off the government or anyone. I work hard, I have a degree that I earned at nights, I'm willing to do any kind of work in order to get ahead." 

She has no idea when she will get to see a judge, and explain to him what drove her to leave her country. She's been told that accommodations are being built at the nearby military base, Fort Bliss, for reuniting children with their parents, while keeping them imprisoned, awaiting their day in court. "As if we were criminals," she says, her fingers playing with the plastic identification band that is part of her prison wear, along with the prison suit, the lace-less sandals. 

But then she smiles. "At least we'll be together again. I believe that God will help us. God will answer my prayers."

I tell her that she's not alone, that many people are praying for her, and contributing their resources to the groups that fight to free her and reunite her with her son. 

She smiles, gratefully. But then a shadow crosses her face again. "I wish I could make him a little cake. I'm going to try to call him and talk to him on Monday, before his birthday."

"If I can't, I'll try again on Wednesday." She already knows that she is not permitted to call anyone on Tuesday, apparently. All these little obstacles, little cuts, are made excruciatingly huge by people trying to make other people like her suffer, to punish her for the crime of looking for humanity, and help.

Visit on July 14

The mother of a 10-year-old boy forcibly separated from her by the U.S. government almost two months ago, at a distance of over 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers), was smiling when I visited her at the detention camp this evening. We picked up the telephones on either side of the glass partition, surrounded by painted cinder-block walls, and sat down to talk. "I saw the judge a few days ago," she said.

No, she didn't get to tell the judge the account of what drove her to the U.S., she said. Specific questions were directed at her, and she was required to only answer them, and not to go on at length.

But the judge did not rule on whether or not she was to be "removed," or deported, so the worst-case scenario was avoided: immediate deportation, without her son.

For now, she can stay at the detention facility, which means the possibility of being reunited with her child has improved. She feels fortunate, although she still has vivid nightmares of losing her child forever. Sustained by her faith during the day, and clinging to hope, her fears nevertheless come alive, unbidden, after dark.

More visits from our local Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center personnel, including from the director, Ms. Linda Rivas, also buoyed her spirits. She has located a close relative in the U.S. that could take them in, as well, which might also improve her chances of staying with her boy.

I was afraid that ICE might have already deported her when I arrived for my visit at the detention camp--located ominously near the airport for quick deportations. The security guard managing the visits wasn't sure where she was at first. He gave me the impression that a lot of disorganization was running through the camp, as the roughly 2,000 men and women held there were moved around, deported or transferred to other camps, and even federal prisons. Overcrowding must be a problem these days.

We prayed together at the end of the visit, grateful for the solidarity with her, expressed from within and even beyond the borders of the U.S. Our Columban personnel in the U.K., protesting the visit of the US head of state, shared her case with many others in the demonstrations, and they, in turn, sent their prayers and wishes for her freedom.

She was able to call her son last Wednesday, and found out that he was given a small birthday cake by his caregivers in New York, which also made her happy. But her anxiety for their future--hopefully to be faced together--was evident in the lines on her face, and in the awkward way she held the heavy phone piece in her thin hands during our exchange. She finds the whole process unwieldy, and perhaps beyond her. She may well wonder if her message is getting to the right people at all.

But how grateful she is for the support of our handful of concerned friends in El Paso! She always mentions that as she says goodbye.

*Editor's Note: What is a "credible fears interview"

In response to the large number of asylum requests, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented an interview process known as “credible fear” screening. The idea behind a credible fear interview is that non-citizens can, instead of being sent straight home, apply for asylum or withholding of removal if they are able to establish a credible (believable) fear of persecution or torture if returned to their home country. But they need to get past this initial screening in order to actually present their full asylum case to an immigration judge for approval or denial.

U.S. courts have consistently held that anyone on United States soil is protected by the Constitution’s right to due process, even if they illegally entered the country, though people generally have greater legal protections inside the country than at the border. How much process is deemed to be “due” depends on the situation, according to The New York Times. “...Courts have upheld that people who entered the United States illegally and were ordered deported have a right to appeal those decisions. But the courts have also essentially said that Congress can decide that more limited procedures are sufficient for noncitizens detained at the border. ...”

Publication Date
July 23, 2018