María fled her native Guatemala, seeking asylum in the U.S. Her journey included 8 harrowing months in detention, a crucial 6-month bond hearing, and release upon raising her $9,000 bond with the help of the community. In the shadow of the traumas she’s experienced and with her asylum case pending, María looks ahead with hope.
Of her eight months in Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center, María says, “I felt like there was no way out, like the world was going to end. I cried every day, not knowing if I was ever going to be able to speak with my family again.” The despair she experienced is common among immigrants in long-term detention—far from family, sometimes enduring sub-standard conditions or abuses, and unsure about when they will be released. She was subject, as those who present at U.S. ports of entry are by law, to mandatory detention. But what María could at least know with some degree of certainty was that a bond hearing was scheduled for early 2017, due to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision requiring 6-month bond hearings for detained individuals, the only form of release available to her. Her story illustrates how critical periodic bond hearings are for mandatory detainees, allowing them more latitude to build their cases and removing the soul-crushing anticipation of indefinite detention.
Though María was granted bond, it was set at $9,000, an insurmountable amount for someone just arrived in the country and without resources. She was fortunate to have a pro-bono attorney handling her case (the KBI’s legal fellow program started some months later), and the backing of a student she encountered at the comedor whose family provided most of the money necessary to post bond. With the support of their community, María was released in March 2017.
Hailing from an indigenous group in Guatemala, María arrived in Nogales, Sonora in June 2016, fleeing her country to escape death threats related to the environmental activism in her village. “I was lost,” she remembers. “I didn’t know where to go.” Hearing about the KBI, she showed up at the comedor and then stayed at the women’s shelter where she learned about the asylum process. With the KBI’s advice and support, she decided on that route. When she presented herself at the DeConcini Port of Entry later that month, she was taken into custody and detained.
Detention was an entirely new reality for María, as it is for everyone. Even after her release, she confessed to feelings of confinement and stress: “I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was still locked up because of the trauma that I still lived with. As I drove away from detention, I felt like someone was going to yell at me that it was lock-up time.”
Even so, she also felt a sense of liberation. “When I put on my normal clothes [as opposed to the green detention uniform], I felt like I was finally a free woman,” she shared. Her first stop? The grocery store to buy fruit, ice cream, vegetables, and ingredients for beef stew. To cook in a kitchen again restored some degree of normal life once more, and she slept better that first night of freedom than she had in months.
Since her release, María obtained a legal work permit as part of her asylum case, and is thrilled and relieved to be able to work once more and support her children in Guatemala. Her asylum case is still pending. In the meantime, she is focused on complying with all her court dates and fulfilling the terms of her release. She’ll respect the judge’s ultimate decision about her asylum status, even if she is deported. But as a testament to the dangers she fled, she adds, “There is no way I can go back to my home.”