Houston (CNN) – Her children cry over the phone and beg her to find someone, anyone, to get them out of a government-run shelter in New York.
The mother has a lump in her throat as she holds back tears.
She is more than 3,000 km away, living under a tarp with her 8-year-old daughter in a public park in Reynosa, Mexico, a poster-ridden hotbed of kidnappings.
“Find someone to help us,” her children, ages 10 and 15, tell her on the phone.
She continues to listen and does not have the heart to tell them, again, that none of their relatives in the United States is willing to take them out of the shelter.
“I feel incomplete,” she told CNN. “I want to do something [por ellos] and I can not”.
This 34-year-old Guatemalan mother shared her story with CNN by phone and asked not to be identified due to concerns about her safety.
Her story reveals what, perhaps, are the unforeseen consequences of a type of family separation that immigration advocates say was created by U.S. government policies that allow children who cross the border alone to be reunited with their families. in United States.
At the same time, under the Trump-era pandemic public health order known as Title 42, adults and children traveling with a parent are quickly returned to Mexico.
While President Joe Biden vowed to undo the hard-line immigration policies of his predecessor, Title 42 is still used by border authorities, and the situation highlights Biden’s difficulties in dealing with the historic surge in migrants in the United States. southern border. Republicans claim that Biden opened the southern border and is not securing the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, immigration advocates pressure Biden, claiming that his immigration policies do not do enough to protect the rights of asylum seekers and vulnerable migrant women and children.
It is unknown exactly how many minors have crossed the border alone, leaving their families or parents in Mexico. But earlier this year, the number of unaccompanied migrant minors increased, and immigration authorities encountered roughly 14,000 minors in April and 16,000 in March, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP, for its acronym in English).
In April, a senior Border Patrol official told CNN that more than 400 children who were taken into US custody without their parents in the Rio Grande Valley had tried to cross with their families first. The desperate situations that led all of these families to make the impossible decision to separate may never be known.
But the painful consequences of those decisions are beginning to show on both sides of the border.
CNN has learned that some parents whose children crossed the border alone are in Mexico, their children are in the custody of the United States government, and family members who promised to be their guardians in the North American country have repented or do not comply with the criteria for removing children from government custody.
Immigration attorney Natalia Trotter says she represents at least three families in those circumstances. He works for RAICES, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to low-income immigrants.
“On several occasions I had to explain to children that they do not have viable sponsors in the United States,” Trotter said. “The expression on their little faces when they realize that no one can receive them is absolutely heartbreaking. These children express confusion, fear, sadness and deep pain.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The family in the US repented
From the Reynosa park, the mother cries on the phone as she explains to CNN how she crossed with her children on April 22 and was returned to Mexico by US immigration authorities the next day.
Three days later, he says, his 10- and 15-year-old sons crossed the border alone. How and why they traveled without her is something that still haunts her, because she doesn’t know exactly. She denies sending them alone.
“It was a total nightmare,” he said.
They were in Reynosa, and one moment her children were with her, she says, and the next they left.
For the Guatemalan mother, what followed were days of agony, not knowing anything about her children until a social worker called her to tell her they were in a shelter in San Antonio, Texas.
At that moment she sighed with relief, since her family in the United States had promised to take her and her children home.
But the joy did not last long.
She says the committed “sponsors” repented once they learned that the US government required them to submit their fingerprints and agree to a home visit.
The desperate pleas of her children
The mother switched a phone call to a video call to show her surroundings. Around him you could hear the chirping of birds.
The phone screen revealed that Reynosa’s urban public park had changed dramatically since mid-April.
Most of the green spaces are now covered with multi-colored tents, and the gray tarps fan out from the gazebo in the center. Everything indicates that more migrants have arrived in the last month, and also the rainy season.
The mother estimates that the tent city is home to hundreds of migrants on any given day and says she is not the only mother with children in the custody of the United States government.
She says two women, one with a 15-year-old daughter and the other with two sons, ages 10 and 17, are in the same agonizing situation. His children crossed the border alone and have been in government shelters for a long time. Approximately one month.
The mother breaks down in tears as she remembers the poverty and violence they left behind in their country of origin, and the desperate pleas of her children never to return.
“Do your best to find someone to sponsor us,” she says her children tell her on the phone. “I don’t want to go back to Guatemala.”
“It’s the only way to cross”
In April, CNN spoke with a Salvadoran mother in Reynosa who recounted the moment she saw her children cry and hold hands as they crossed the border alone.
“I felt like I was dying,” he told CNN. “I did not want to be separated from them.”
Their children, ages 12 and 16, did not want to separate either. But after crossing into the United States twice and being expelled, they felt that separating was the only option for their family.
“It’s the only way to cross,” he says his eldest son told him.
With a greeting, the boys left and she stood on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, wondering if they had made a terrible mistake.
As she told CNN her story from a shelter for deported migrants, she held her 7-year-old son with special needs and wiped the tears that run down his face.
“It was the only option … so they could have a better future,” he said.
This mother did not want to be identified because of fears about the safety of her family. Her story highlights the impossible options some migrant parents say they are left with when U.S. immigration authorities automatically return them to dangerous Mexican border towns.
The humanitarian exemption helps mothers with their children
Immigration attorney Natalia Trotter says that “although most unaccompanied minors are eventually reunited with relatives in the United States, minors whose parents are trapped in Mexico often have no options for reunification.”
“The frustrating and discouraging part of this situation is that these children have viable sponsors, sponsors that they should never have been forced to part with,” Trotter said.
But in one case last week, Trotter says, his client, a mother who was in Mexico, was allowed into the United States to reunite with her children who had been in a government-run shelter. In these types of cases, both the mother and the child receive notices to appear before a judge and continue with their immigration cases.
That kind of legal compensation, Trotter explains, is not guaranteed. It is a humanitarian exemption from Title 42 for migrants in certain vulnerable situations or with other compelling reasons, such as separation from their children.
Advocates call for an end to Title 42
Title 42 is a public health policy for the covid-19 pandemic that was implemented by the Trump administration in early 2020, which allows immigration authorities to quickly return migrant families to Mexico.
Biden continued politics when he took office. In April, CBP expelled more than 111,000 people under Title 42, the agency said.
Trotter and other immigrant advocates are calling for an end to Title 42. They argue that US law allows asylum seekers to enter the US and have their cases heard, and that Trump-era politics, which quickly return families to dangerous Mexican border cities, is “forcing” some parents to send their children alone across the border.
“Parents are faced with the decision to stay together as a unit and face the possibility of assault, rape, kidnapping and death or send their children to an unknown place that at least presents the prospect of physical safety for the minors,” he said. Trotter.
Last week, during a congressional hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declined to provide a timeline on when border policy related to the pandemic will be lifted.
“We are looking at the data, we are looking at the scientific data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we will not rely on Title 42 when there is no longer an imperative public health basis to do so,” Mayorkas testified.
“Tragically, this forced separation is the result of a failed immigration policy implemented by the previous administration and not eliminated by the current administration,” said Trotter.
“I have to have faith”
From Reynosa’s public park, the mother remembers the times when she could hug all her children but was surrounded by poverty and violence, and then the plea on her children’s phone echoes in her mind.
“Find someone to help us,” she says her children tell her on the phone. “Mommy, I don’t want to go back to Guatemala.”
The mother has trouble putting her pain, despair, and hopelessness into words as she cries on the phone and clings to the only sure thing in her life, her faith.
He goes on to say that he has no money and no home. Her 8-year-old daughter, who only has two sets of clothes, is covered in mosquito bites, and she doesn’t know when or how she will hug her two children again.
“Every day is a nightmare,” said the mother. But I have to have faith.