Seeking U.S. Asylum In 2018 – A Brazilian Immigrant’s Story

W.R.-and-A.R.-reunited
Brazilian mother and son are reunited after 45-days of separation under Trump's Zero Tolerance Policy. (Contributed Image)

By Felicia J. Persaud

News Americas, MIAMI, FL, Fri. July 27, 2018: On May 28, 2018, a 35-year-old Brazilian mother and her son arrived at the U.S.’ southern border, seeking asylum. The mother, known only as W.R. in her court affidavit, had left Brazil on May 23, 2018, running away from an abusive husband and drug dealer, who had threatened her life and the life of her son, 9-year-old A.R.

Upon arriving near the southern border, W.R. says she walked on foot for over two hours through desert and fields to cross into the United States.

She had little except a backpack in which she carried the entirety of her savings, some jewelry, her and her son’s passports and their IDs, along with their birth certificates and her son’s vaccination record.

On May 28th, W.R. says she saw an individual she later found out was a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer and surrendered to him.   This officer, she said in her affidavit, took all their belongings, including the little money she had along with her jewelry, passports, IDs, other records, coats, hats, and backpack.

W.R. says this officer addressed her in Spanish, but since she speaks Portuguese he used his cell phone to translate text in an effort to communicate with her.

She says she was then asked to fill out some paperwork but did not understand what she was to do so he called over another Border Patrol officer. As they awaited the arrival of this second officer, W.R. said the first officer, using his translation app on his phone, asked her why she had come to the United States to which she told him she was “afraid of dying in my country.”

W.R. says when the second Border Patrol officer arrived, she and her son were loaded into a truck and taken to a detention facility somewhere in Arizona.

Upon arrival at that facility, she says she was fingerprinted and photographed and told she and her son would only be at that location for “a few days.”

Soon after she was led to a cell but as she held her son and tried to take him with her, an officer stopped her and abruptly took A.R. away.

W.R. says A.R. began crying and calling out to her but the officer quickly removed him and took him to another cell.

“I was placed in a cell that I believe was meant to hold 20 or so women,” she stated. “It was approximately 15 feet by 15 feet.  There were approximately 90 other women in this cell.  The cell had cement floors, and no beds or mattresses.  There was not enough space to lay down.  We were given aluminum sheets for warmth. It was very cold.”

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W.R. says he cell had a small bathroom with no door and a video camera faced the toilet that filmed everything, including how often a detainee used the toilet.

Her son A.R. was taken to a similar cell and she says, if she walked to the front of her cell, and he walked to the front of his cell, they could see each other from afar.

From there, W.R. said she could see her son crying, while appearing very upset and scared.  She could also see her son was being held with other children of all ages in a cell that also had no beds or mattresses.

The only food they were given were uncooked “Cup of Noodles.” Some of the time, they were given hot water to make the soup but mostly the noodles were uncooked.

Water available to drink came from a small sink next to the toilet, she said, and it tasted as if it had been treated with bleach.

W.R. says from what she could see, the detained children were given the same food and water as the adults.  Additionally, there was no way to bathe or shower, no soap, and no way to maintain basic hygiene.

The cells, she said, were never cleaned during the approximately 10 days she was held there, and all sleeping had to be done on the hard, cold cement floor.

On May 30, 2018, W.R. says she observed an officer enter the children’s’ cell and choose some of the children, including her son A.R.

She says she began pounding on the door of her cell and screaming for help but no one came.  She says she did not know what was happening and was terrified for her son.

It was only later that day that an officer came to the cell and called for me.  W.R. says he asked questions, including whether she had any more money.  He then reportedly told her that her son was going to be transferred to another location.

Even though she says she objected, she was told by the officer “not to worry because when I left detention I would be able to pick up my son.”

W.R. says the officer then brought her son to the front of her cell and was able to hug him goodbye.

He was then taken away and she was returned to my cell.  At the time, she did not know the next time she would see her son would be a whopping 45 days later!

W.R. was kept in the detention facility in Arizona for approximately ten days.  During that time, when she asked about A.R., she was only told by a Portuguese speaking officer on duty that she would see him upon her release from detention.

“I had no contact with my son whatsoever,” W.R. revealed, even though the Department of Homeland Security had said children were allowed to call their parents every week.

W.R. says that on or around June 6, 2018, she was taken along with other women from the cell and transferred via bus to a different location.

At that location, she was held in a smaller cell, but the conditions were the same as the first facility.

“During this time, I was not provided any information about my son, A.R.,” she disclosed. “After a day or two, I was transferred again to a third detention center.  This was an all-male detention center; however, many women were transferred with me.”

At this third facility, W.R. says there was only one cell for women though it provided small mattresses to them along with milk, a piece of bread, and a piece of fruit.

She was also allowed to shower for the first time since being detained but still was not provided with any information on her son.

On or about June 8th, W.R. says she was transferred yet again to a detention center that she later found out to be in Eloy, Arizona. When I arrived in Eloy they performed medical tests on her, including a pregnancy test as well as mental health screenings.

During these appointments, W.R. says a Portuguese interpreter was only available by telephone, but she was asked to sign English language paperwork even though she did not understand what she was signing.

At the facility in Eloy, W.R. says she was given a small room with a bed and was allowed to shower. She was also given regular meals for the first time.

On or about June 9, 2018, W.R. says she learned that she could submit a request for information about her son.  She then submitted a “Detainee Request Form” and asked for information about her son and received a written response, in Spanish, which stated that A.R. was in a facility for minors and that she could call or contact him by at a phone listed. She was, however, not provided with the name or location of the facility where he was being held or his immigration case number.

She was told that she could not call the facility until Wednesday, June 13, 2018.  W.R. says she called twice but each time was told that she could not speak with her son.  It was not until, June 19, 2018, more than 20 days since he was taken away from her, that she was finally able to speak to him on the phone for the first time.

However, W.R. said someone was with him monitoring his phone call and he was not allowed to tell her his location or how he got there.

“He was only allowed to tell me that he was doing alright, that he had a bed, and that he was going to school,” she stated. “If he tried to tell me anything else, the phone was taken away from him.”

Meanwhile, at Eloy, W.R. says she was eventually told that she could leave if someone paid a bond for her. Otherwise, she would be deported.  Nothing was said of her son.

Luckily for W.R., she has a brother who lives in Malden, Massachusetts and she was allowed to call him. He paid the bond of $7,500 for her and she was subsequently loaded onto a bus with other men and women and driven to a bus station and released.

“When I asked about my son after my release, I was told that President Trump had changed the policy now my son would not be released to me,” W.R. stated.

She said she was able to make her way to Malden, Massachusetts and she is currently living there. However, her son was not released and she had no idea where he was until she sought assistance from the Brazilian Workers’ Center.

Finally, after obtaining pro bono legal help from The Lawyers’ Committee and WilmerHale to sort through the maze of red tape and bureaucracy, W.R. secured an emergency hearing in federal court that cleared the way for reunification with her son.

W.R. and A.R. were reunited at Logan Airport on Saturday, July 14th, 45 days after they were their forced separation.

Now another legal battle looms ahead for her and her son – remaining in the U.S. and trying to get her asylum case approved.

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The writer is CMO at Hard Beat Communications, Inc. which owns the brands: NewsAmericasNow, CaribPRWire and InvestCaribbeanNow.