María’s Story: The Toll of Poverty and Family Separation

U.S. detention and deportation policies have long been the source of separation for immigrant families seeking to be together. María crossed the U.S.–Mexico border twice to visit her father who she has not seen in a decade, but it is not clear how or when that reunion will take place.

María came to the KBI in mid-August, after serving 30 days in a U.S. prison and being deported to Nogales, Sonora. She hasn’t seen her dad in 10 years, and her goal was to live with him in Atlanta, work to send money to her mother and siblings in Oaxaca, and save to continue her education back in Mexico. María stayed at the KBI shelter for a month, recovering from the traumatic experience of a lengthy journey, needless detention, and deportation to an unknown city, all without the comfort or companionship of family, and deciding on her next steps.

María tells her story, offered in English and Spanish, below. What she does not include is the fact that, like many undocumented migrants apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the U.S.–Mexico border, her case was expedited through Operation Streamline, resulting in a criminal misdemeanor, the aforementioned detention and deportation, and harsher penalties should she be arrested for re-entry again. This outcome will make it that much harder for María to get to see her father, seek a visa, or apply for permanent residency or citizenship in the U.S., and is among numerous reasons why Operation Streamline is a flawed and unduly punitive system.


My name is María, and I’m from Juquila, Oaxaca. I’m 18 years old.

I want to be with my family in the United States. I want to be there with them. My cousin is in Ohio, and my father is in Atlanta.  My dad is the one who paid the coyote. It’s been 10 years [since I’ve seen my dad].

[I’ve tried to cross the border] twice. The first time I tried to cross was through Agua Prieta. I walked for 8 days, and just as we were arriving, we were apprehended.

The second time I tried crossing was here in Nogales. I barely walked three minutes and then Border Patrol caught me. I was in detention for a month.

[In the detention center], they give you food, but I wasn’t that hungry—I was missing my family, I wanted to get out… you’re very sad when you’re there, locked up.

I’m going to try and cross again. I don’t know if it’ll be this month or another, but I’m going to try again. I want to be with my family.

I’m going to keep studying. I’m going to finish my degree—I want to be a teacher. The first thing though is that I want to be with my family—I miss them so much, and then I’ll return to Oaxaca. I’ll work there in Oaxaca, teaching children—that’s what I hope for. We’ll see what happens. One day I expect to have a family.

I think that people [who are anti-immigrant] are doing wrong. We all have a right to be with our families, and have work.


Me llamo María, y soy de Juquila, Oaxaca. Tengo 18 años.

Quería ir estar con mi familia allá en Estados Unidos. Quiero llegar allá con mi familia. Mi prima está en Ohio, y mi papá está en Atlanta. Mi papá pagó al coyote. Tengo diez años [que no veo a mi papá].

Ya [intenté cruzar la frontera] dos veces. La primera vez intenté por Agua Prieta. Caminé 8 días, y allí, llegando, nos agarraron.

La segunda vez intenté aquí por Nogales. Nada más caminé como tres minutos y ya, y me agarraron. Estuve en detención un mes.

[En el centro de detención], te dan de comer, pero a mí no me daba hambre, como extraño a mi familia, quiero salir… uno se siente triste allí, encerrado.

Voy a intentar otra vez. La verdad no sé si en este mes u otro, pero voy a intentar otra vez. Quiero llegar con mi familia.

Voy a seguir estudiando. Voy a terminar mi carrera—quiero ser una maestra. Primero, quiero estar con mi familia, es que la extraño mucho, y voy a regresar aquí a Oaxaca. Voy a trabajar allá en Oaxaca, enseñar a los niños, es lo que quiero—a ver qué pasa. Algún día pienso tener una familia.

Creo que [las personas antiinmigrantes] están haciendo mal. Todos tenemos derecho a estar con nuestra familia, a tener trabajo.

With other migrant women at the KBI shelter, María weaves bracelets to sell, a therapeutic activity after the trauma of detention and deportation as well as a practical means of generating some funds for necessities. Photo by Julie Olbrantz

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