Migrant mom makes difficult choice: Move farther from son for better chance at asylum

Claudia and Kevin, separated since late May, and the exterior of the Port Isabel Detention Center.
Claudia and Kevin, separated since late May, and the exterior of the Port Isabel Detention Center.
Reynaldo Leal: Port Isabel exterior

A Salvadoran mother who was moved closer to her 7-year-old son in South Texas this week made the difficult choice Wednesday of seeking a transfer back to the Austin area, where her lawyer thinks she’ll have a far better chance of gaining asylum and avoiding deportation.

The mother, Claudia, has been separated from her son Kevin since the two crossed the Texas-Mexico border illegally near McAllen in late May. She had been detained in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor for weeks, but then she and several other separated moms were suddenly moved Monday, she said, to the notorious Port Isabel Detention Center, which the government has designated a holding location for migrants in the “removal process.”

Speaking over a scratchy telephone line Wednesday from the Port Isabel facility, the single mom said she was told at the Hutto facility that she was going to be moved closer to her son, who she believes is in Brownsville. Both of the detention facilities hold migrants that are in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“What they said in Taylor is that it was because we would be closer to our children so we could be reunified, but they haven’t said anything about that here,” Claudia said. “We got here yesterday, and now another day has gone by and they haven’t told us anything.”

Her Austin lawyer, Jennifer Walker Gates, said Wednesday she took the unusual step of asking a federal judge in Austin to issue an emergency order to move Claudia back to the Hutto facility so she can keep fighting her asylum case in Central Texas.

The Texas Tribune’s reporting on the Families Divided project is supported by the Pulitzer Center, which will also help bring discussions on this important topic to schools and universities in Texas and across the United States through its K-12 and Campus Consortium networks.

“She has to choose between having a shot at a safe life free from the violence that she fled versus immediately being reunited with her child and continuing to endure the excruciating pain of that separation,” Walker Gates said.

Claudia and Kevin left violence-torn El Salvador in May after receiving what Claudia described in her asylum claim as a death threat from a police officer whom she said was in cahoots with a gang member. Her lawyer says the asylum officer made errors and that the government blew deadlines for getting her case before an immigration court, prompting her to seek emergency legal remedies.

Claudia described the separation from her only son as a living hell that she “wouldn’t wish on anyone.” She said at first her son adapted well in his shelter but more recently has been telling her that he’s sad and wants to leave.

Claudia said her faith in God is the only thing that has sustained her during her time in detention.

“I know God is with me because if God weren’t with me I would go crazy,” she said.



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