Back to News

Lack Of Language Access Separates Families; Results in Deportation

Photo Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle

This morning, Sara Caal was reunited at the George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas with her five-year-old daughter, Alida, after being involuntarily separated from her for nine months. Though the separation was difficult, Sara’s story begins long before she crossed the border.

At 21 years old, this indigenous Q’eqchi’ woman was violently attacked in her home country of Guatemala. Her daughter witnessed much of the violence against her mother. After being targeted for her race, she decided to come to the United States to ensure her and her daughter’s safety.

However, after the arduous journey to the border, a new hurdle presented itself for Sara and Alida. Though Sara only speaks Q’egchi’, DHS demanded she take her initial credible fear interview in Spanish. Predictably, this resulted in a negative decision for her case.

In June 2018, young Alida was sent to live with her father in Houston, Texas. Sara was sent to a detention facility.

With all the resolve of a mother protecting her family, Sara pleaded to have an immigration judge review the negative decision. A judge did hear her plea via televideo conference. However, upon reviewing it, the judge tore up her paperwork, threw it in the trash, and told Sara that she was lying.

Sara’s RAICES attorney, Kat Russell, sought a re-interview from the Houston Asylum Office on Sara’s behalf. The request was denied without explanation. Had Sara been able to speak Spanish, RAICES believes Sara would not have been separated from her daughter and detained for nine months.

In November 2018, ICE called our RAICES attorney to inform her that Sara was to be deported. Thankfully, Sara stood up for herself, confident in the knowledge that she could claim her due process, which she had learned from prior consultations with Kat Russell about her rights.

From June 2018 until this morning, Sara had not seen her daughter. She reports that Alida has been scared to go to school because students and teachers ask her where her mom is. She didn’t want to say that her mother is “in jail.”

The protocols that caused Sara and Alida to be separated potentially affect thousands of other families. This is the true crisis happening at the United States’ southern border. We ask the current administration to focus on the crisis that is this broken immigration system, instead of breaking apart any more families.

Though she is finally with her daughter, Sara still has more work to do in order to finish her case. She still needs RAICES to navigate her immigration case. We’re going to be there for her and her daughter.