In early 2019, after 9 months in detention, Sara Caal, a Q’eqchi’ woman from Guatemala, was reunited at the George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas with her five-year-old daughter, Alida. Sara’s story, though heartbreaking, is unfortunately, similar to other families’ stories. Sara and her daughter, although separated during the height of Zero Tolerance, did not fall under the mandatory reunification ruling because Alida had been released to her father just days before the ruling by U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw mandating the reunification of 2,600 separated children. 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 Sara’s 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 her attorney about her rights. During her detention, Sara reported that her daughter had 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 and other similar circumstances affected thousands of other families. This is the true crisis happening at the United States’ southern border. Even today, families are separated if they can’t prove their familial ties, or they are more distant than a parent or legal guardian relationship.
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.