In 2016 the United States admitted nearly 85,000 refugees from across the world. And 5,490 of these were asylum seekers.
But more recently shocking scenes occurred at the borders. In 2018 news headlines told us about thousands of asylum seekers separated at the borders. Officials at the border separated over 2,500 children from their parents.
You’re probably familiar with these shocking headlines. But do you really understand what these families had to endure?
Read on to learn the true stories of these brave families separated at the borders.
What Are Asylum Seekers?
Asylum seekers are people who travel from one country to another looking to create a new home.
The immigration definition and asylum’s definition are fairly similar, to begin with. Immigration is the act of moving from one country to live permanently in another.
However, an asylum seeker flees their country because remaining there would be dangerous. Therefore they need protection in a new country.
Several things might cause this danger. Most asylum seekers suffer persecution in their home countries. This might be religious, racial or political.
Asylum seekers make their application for asylum on arrival at the border.
Where Do They Come From?
Asylum seekers come to the US from all over the world. But the majority of those affected by border separation come from Central America.
This is largely due to Central America’s high rate of violent crime.
In Guatemala, the homicide rate is currently 27.3 murders per 100,000 people, and that’s after it has declined! The country is also home to the third highest rate of femicide (female killings) globally.
It’s neighbor, El Salvador, isn’t any better. 67 in 100 women in the country have experienced violence during their lifetime.
And 2018 was one of the deadliest years in the history of El Salvador.
In Honduras, criminal gangs are responsible for a lot of the violence. They dominate in the cities and recruit from a young age. This means that kidnapping, sexual violence, and homicides are a common occurrence.
The city of San Pedro Sula, in the north of Honduras, holds the second highest murder rate in the world. Out of 100,000, there are 111 people killed every year.
Volunteering schemes based in these countries have tried to help solve these problems. But they still have a long way to go.
So perhaps now you can understand why these families have to flee their countries. And why they choose to risk the journey in search of a better life.
Franklin and Byron Were Asylum Seekers Separated at the Border
Franklin and his brother, Byron, were eleven and seven years old when they made the journey to the border.
They were born and raised in Honduras. After their family received repeated death threats from a criminal gang it was time to leave.
They crossed the border with their mother on May 31. And on June 2 border patrol separated them from her.
Scared and uncertain of what was happening, the boys remained in a detention center. Here they could barely sleep because it was constantly cold. Their only warmth came from huddling under foil-sheet blankets.
Even when they did sleep, the guards would wake them up in the middle of the night by kicking at them. The boys never knew why they were being woken.
The little food they had was raw ham. So the boys had to decide whether to eat the food and get sick or go hungry. During this time they had no idea where their mother was.
Eventually, they moved to New York and lived with a foster family. After over a month apart they reunited with their mother in the city.
Sergio told his story during a July interview at a hearing in 2018. Like so many other children he traveled to the border with his father but was stopped at the border.
Border patrol confiscated everyone’s belongings and separated them into two groups. Sergio didn’t worry as he thought he and his father would end up in the same place.
It was only later that he realized his father wasn’t coming with him. At the hearing in mid-July, Sergio had still not seen his father.
Sergio spent over a month at the Casa Padre shelter in Texas. Here he finally had the chance to speak to his father. And even then the conversation was brief.
In forty-five days in a country he barely knows, Sergio spoke to his father for all of twenty minutes.
Eleven-year-old Alexander came to the US seeking asylum with his mother from Guatemala. On reaching the border officials separated him from his mother.
Alexander witnessed her chained up at her feet, waist, and hands. He saw this alongside a six-year-old boy whose father was also chained up.
From the border, he went to a migrant children shelter in Illinois. But at the shelter, he didn’t experience much relief. Still unsure of where his mum was, an older boy bullied him.
One night the bully tripped Alexander causing him to severely wound his head. Fortunately, he recovered in hospital but his mother wasn’t told until after he came out.
Alexander and his mother were only reunited after 45 days.
Juan and Rosa’s Story
Rosa, from Honduras, fled to the US to protect her son 14-year-old son, Juan, from drug traffickers.
On May 5, 2018, they climbed aboard a bus of fellow asylum seekers. All they had with them was a change of clothes and Juan’s cellphone.
The trip of more than 2,500 miles took them 10 days. It cost Rosa $6,000 but that’s a small price for safety. Unfortunately, she had not heard about the separation of families at the border.
So when border patrol split them up on May 15 Rosa didn’t worry straight away.
Her greater immediate concern was the state of the cell she was in. Due to the poor conditions many of the women, including Rosa, became ill with fever and vomiting.
Rosa stayed there for nine days before they moved her to a detention center in Colorado. This is when she began to panic about Juan’s whereabouts.
Luckily lawyers at Miller Canfield picked up Rosa’s case and she finally spoke to Juan on the phone on June 24. Her lawyer asked that she be granted amnesty.
Amnesty’s definition is an official pardon for people convicted of political offenses. She was released on June 28 but didn’t get to see Juan, who was living with a foster family.
Rosa didn’t speak the language or have a cellphone. So it’s a miracle she made it all the way to her sister’s house in New Orleans. She only did so thanks to the support of a charity called Casa de Paz.
In July 2018, Rosa and Juan were still apart. They were apart for over 51 days. Rosa said that if she’d known what would happen she would never have left Honduras.
Yareni and her four-year-old son only found refuge thanks to the kindness of strangers.
They fled Guatemala after receiving death threats. Their journey involved a trek across Mexico to the border. But on their arrival on May 25, they were separated.
Yareni didn’t see her son for seven weeks. They remained in detention centers in separate states until meeting in New Jersey on July 11.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing from there.
Her son suffered nightmares, bed-wetting and severe separation anxiety following this. And as an asylum seeker, Yareni wasn’t allowed to work for some time.
They were in serious financial difficulty.
Luckily, the generosity of others supported them. Yareni received a cellphone and gift cards to buy food with. People also donated clothes and shoes for them.
The International Rescue Committee helped Yareni enroll her son in school. They also helped her get access to medical services for him. This means her son can now see a Spanish-speaking pro-bono therapist to help his anxiety.
How Could You Help?
In September there were still 182 children kept apart from their families.
In some cases, parents couldn’t even stay in the country to locate their children. So how can you help?
- Give to charities that support asylum-seeking families separated at the border.
- Become an immigrant child’s advocate.
- Help children in foster care by becoming a court-appointed special advocate (CASA). Or donate to these programs.
- Volunteer as a visitor for people in detention centers.
- If you’re a qualified lawyer you could offer pro-bono work for those who can’t afford it.
- Transform a local community space into a place of refuge.
Or if you’re looking to help out other families in America you might consider egg donation. Check out egg donor requirements here.
The Bottom Line
Each story that asylum seekers separated at the border tell is devastating. It’s the story of a family who fled danger in search of hope only to be torn apart. The bravery of each member of these families is truly amazing.
And for more inspirational stories like these check out our blogs.