Originally from Pueba, Mexico, Belicia is a single mother of three daughters. She fled her hometown when the threats of violence against her and her daughters escalated into death threats. They arrived in Nogales, Sonora in February of 2020. Initially, they were hoping to cross the border and seek asylum, but the Covid-19 pandemic quickly threw the border into greater chaos. That search for stability and safety over the past year has illustrated the challenges of mothering in migration, especially under US immigration policies designed to strain families or break them apart.
When they first arrived in Nogales, Belicia and her daughters recuperated from the journey. She would take her daughters to the park to play or just outside. When the pandemic struck, Belicia knew she needed a place where she and her daughters could stay inside and apart from others. Then, she heard the news that the border had closed.
“That was the hardest moment for us,” Belicia shares. Her eldest daughter looked up at her after she heard and asked, “What are we going to do? We can’t go back, so are we going to stay? I don’t like it here. I don’t want to be here.” Her daughter’s question cut Belicia to the quick. She didn’t know what to say, because she didn’t know what they were going to do. The uncertainty of when, and if, the border would open again coupled with the fear of getting the pandemic. “It threw me into turmoil inside,” Belicia says.
Still, Belicia says she knew she had to move forward. Trying to build a temporary life in Nogales in limbo brought its own challenges. She located a place she and her young daughters could stay. One of Belicia’s first landlords was an older woman. She saw Belicia and her daughters were migrants and quickly assumed they had relatives in the US who were sending them money. “Or she assumed we already had money and were looking for the American Dream,” Belicia explains. Due to the pandemic, Belicia maintained a small pantry of food in her apartment to make sure she could stay home and avoid contagion. Seeing this, Belicia’s landlord raised her rent. “She told me that if I had money to buy all that food, then I must have money to pay more rent.”
The landlord would enter Belicia’s home without her consent just to check her cupboard periodically. She kept charging Belicia more for rent, water, and electricity. Belicia didn’t know what to do. “I didn’t know anyone, so I just kept paying more and more,” she explains, “I didn’t know where else to go.”
Finally, her pastor from Puebla connected with a pastor in Nogales who agreed to aid Belicia. He helped her find another house to rent, which was a little better. Still, Belicia noticed the looks that others would give her, realizing she was a migrant. “They look down on us for being migrants.”
Belicia is quick to note that even as she faced people who abused her or looked down on her, it was the strength and commitment of others that has kept her going. “When I saw the marches to save asylum, how so many people showed up to support, even people in the USA, I knew I couldn’t give up. Meeting people who charged us nothing to help us, some people who didn’t even get a salary, I knew I had to continue the struggle to open the border. If these people weren’t giving up, I couldn’t give up either.” Even more, she says that every time she looked in her daughters’ eyes, it only strengthened her resolve.
Those experiences have changed her. “I have learned that my voice has value, and that I have a right to express what I feel. I have learned to lift my voice here, and that I can make a difference in many things.”
A few weeks ago Belicia and her daughters were allowed to finally seek asylum in the US. Title 42, an order that excludes most people from accessing asylum in the US, is still in place. However, the Florence Project and the Kino Border Initiative have coordinated with the ACLU to advocate for exceptions to Title 42 for a small number of families. Belicia and her daughters were approved for an exception and allowed to present for asylum at the port of entry. She was overwhelmed when she first heard the news — the long wait was over after so many months. Then she felt afraid. “I had heard so many stories of them separating mothers from their children,” she shares. “I feel terrified that they might separate me from my daughters. But I know that God will help me if they push me away again. God knows why we stayed here so long, and God watches over us. I have faith that everything will be fine. I’ve made up my mind to be resolute about this. I have to move on. My daughters and I cannot go back to Puebla, and we can’t stay here in Nogales. All we want is security and protection. I don’t want the American Dream or any kind of economic gain, that’s not why I left. I just want to live with my daughters in peace.”
Although the Biden Administration has made some strides in undoing Trump-era anti-asylum policies, his administration continues to employ Title 42 to expel migrants back to Mexico. We urge the administration to end Title 42 and restore access to asylum quickly and transparently. These actions are critical to keeping families like Belicia’s safe and unified. She has the legal right to seek asylum, and we are pressing for the day where that right is honored for all at the border.