Click here to read the original profile we ran on Esmeralda in October, 2020.
Esmeralda fled Guerrero, Mexico in 2019 with her three youngest children. Her family had experienced persecution and death threats for 13 years, but the violence in her town had grown to a fever pitch. She arrived in Nogales, Sonora and put her family’s names on a list. It was the first of 543 days they would spend there, waiting for the chance to seek asylum at the port of entry.
“Everything got paralyzed for us because of the pandemic,” Esmeralda shared on a recent phone call. After tireless work with attorneys from the Florence Project, Esmeralda and her family finally received word that they had a date to come to the port of entry and seek asylum. Esmeralda says in that moment, it felt like a rush of confirmation that God had heard all of her prayers and petitions. Her oldest child had joined them by then, and was going to cross, too.
When the date came, Esmeralda was both eager and afraid. “I had a positive frame of mind,” she said, “but I was nervous, too. The only thing on my mind was that I had to arrive with my kids. They are my first and top priority. My worst fear was that they would separate me from my kids. I especially feared for my oldest son, since he isn’t a minor anymore.”
Their appointment with border officials lasted for five hours. At the end, Esmeralda and all of her children were released into the US, where Kino staff were waiting. After a few different stops to prepare, the family boarded a plane to join their sponsors in another state. Esmeralda had met the sponsors before in a video chat.
“My family is very good now, thanks be to God,” Esmeralda effused. Due to a mandatory six-month waiting period before she can apply for a work permit, Esmeralda isn’t working. She spends her days with her family in the sponsor’s home, preparing for her asylum hearing. She is still in limbo, but she says it feels vastly different from the limbo she experienced in Nogales, Sonora. “There’s a mountain of differences,” she said quickly, “In Nogales, there’s so much danger. You don’t know when someone is going to kidnap you or your children. Here, I can take my kid to the park and they can be free. I’m not worried anyone is going to grab them.”
For all that she feels relieved to be in the United States, Esmeralda knows her fight is far from over. She is carefully preparing for her upcoming court date. She is trying to support her children, who are saying good-bye to the dreams they had for their lives in Mexico. “My daughter wanted to be a doctor. My son wanted to be a veterinarian. Now, they keep saying their dreams are trash because school is so expensive here. They are afraid of being bullied in school. I’m trying to keep up their spirits and help them adjust in whatever way I can.” She explains that the change has been like whiplash for them.
Even more, Esmeralda says she cannot help but think about all the people she knows who are still waiting in Nogales. “My mission hasn’t ended,” she told our staff. Back in Nogales, Sonora, Esmeralda had become a powerful advocate in the #SaveAsylum movement. She says she still wants to lift her voice and pressure the Biden Administration to completely annul the use of Title 42. In the US, she has learned that the chance of winning an asylum case depends on where a case is filed as much, if not more, as the case’s merits. While Esmeralda knows her state has a fair reputation, the idea that other states would reject asylum-seekers without cause frustrates her. “That’s wrong,” Esmeralda said, “The government needs to understand that seeking asylum is a right. It’s a right that every human being deserves to have.”
We agree wholeheartedly with her. While we are thrilled that Esmeralda has finally gotten the chance to present her claim for asylum, we lament the fact that thousands of others are still stuck waiting at the border. No one should have to wait 543 days to seek asylum. Once migrants do have a chance to present at the port of entry, they deserve due process and a thorough examination of their case. Afterwards, they deserve to wait for their hearing out of detention and in safety. Like Esmeralda, we know our journey towards humane migration and a workable system is far from over. Alongside people like her, we will continue to fight.