Naomi Perez is a high school student and a U.S. citizen. She has also lived without her mother for eight years, a separation forced by U.S. immigration laws: She wrote this Mother’s Day message:
“I was just 8 years old when I learned about the harsh reality of immigration in the United States. My grandfather passed away in March 2009. For some time prior to that, he had been living in Madera, the Mexican city in Chihuahua where my mom and her sisters grew up. That night, my whole life changed.
“My mother and I set out on a long journey that included crossing a border I had no idea even existed. As an 8-year-old, I didn’t fully understand what that meant. It wasn’t until a few days later that my mom told me she could not return to Albuquerque. Albuquerque was my home; my family lived there and so did my friends.
“How do you tell an 8-year-old girl who spent every day of her life playing with her cousins, singing with her aunts or cooking with her grandmother, that she may never get to see them again? How do you tell an 8-year-old that if she wants to return to her home, she must leave her mother behind? Or that the government of the country she was born in did not want people like her mom?”
Naomi’s message reminds us that family separation reaches far beyond the border. U.S. citizen children like her are separated when a parent is deported or, like her mother, barred from re-entering. Mixed-status families live in fear of the knock on the door or the traffic stop or the appointment with USCIS that may mean separation and deportation.
In Central America, families live with other kinds of fear. Karla is a 30-year-old Guatemalan woman who fled violence in her home country, bringing her two sons to what she hoped would be safety in the United States. She waited in Mexico for their chance to apply for asylum, to do it “the right way.” Then she found that she would be ordered to take her children back to Mexico, where she had nothing and no one. Back to a dangerous and uncertain and unprotected months-long wait for the next court hearing, and the next after that.
“I want to go back to my country,” she told the judge.
“[Immigration Judge] Herbert asked her if she was afraid to go back to Guatemala.
“Yes, but I am even more afraid to be in Mexico,” Karla said, sobbing. She held her baby while her older son, Eddin, sat about 10 feet away on a courtroom bench.
“At the end of the hearing, Herbert issued an order of removal that will result in the family’s deportation to Guatemala. Attorneys familiar with Migrant Protection Protocols said Karla and her family are the first people in the program to be ordered deported.”
No chance. No safety. No hope.
Other mothers and children enter the United States the “wrong” way, eschewing the long wait in Mexico for permission to enter and leave and wait some more. Crossing between checkpoints, they look for a Border Patrol officer, so that they can turn themselves in. Then they wait, on this side of the border, in tents or worse.
“In a statement, the agency said the 500-person tent it opened in Donna, Texas, is already beyond capacity. The statement cited the large numbers of migrant parents and children crossing into the United States, many of them asylum seekers from Central America.
“Photos released by the Border Patrol show dozens of migrants sitting or lying on the grass outside a small, military-style tent with only Mylar sheets underneath them. Another photo inside a tent shows adults and children huddled underneath the shiny sheets. The agency said it’s also detaining migrants in the secure entryways, or sally ports, of some of its stations.”
Last week, the number of undocumented immigrant children held in detention inside the United States topped 13,000.