“None of us were able to sleep because we were so afraid,” Lenora* recalls when thinking about the night she spent with her children in Border Patrol custody.
She and her three kids fled Southern Mexico to save her daughter – a man with a long history of brutal violence against women was targeting her and issuing threats. Once they arrived at the US – Mexico border, the family turned themselves over to Border Patrol agents. “The Border Patrol agent we turned ourselves into put us in a vehicle and transported us about twenty minutes to an office near Nogales where the Border Patrol took our fingerprints,” Lenora remembers.
From there, Lenora and her children were moved two more times. First, they were taken to Tucson, but Tucson refused them. Lenora does not know why. Instead, they were transported to Nogales. She says, “When we arrived at the third location around 6 or 7 PM, they put bracelets on us and placed us in the hielera (this is how Border Patrol holding cells are referred to because of the very low temperature). They told us to pick a cot and gave us paper-thin aluminum blankets, but it was very cold.”
Soon after that, Leonora was asked to sign paperwork confirming her deportation. She tried to explain why they were fleeing and seeking asylum. The Border Patrol agent responded, “You’re in charge of defending your own kids; you can’t just come to the US.”
The agents made fun of her, laughed at her, and made her sign a document. All the while, they pressured her to sign over an order accepting her return to Mexico. They said if she didn’t sign it, she would be a criminal and subject to consequences for ten years. They even threatened to separate her from her children if she did not sign the paperwork and instead pursue the asylum process. Eventually, Lenora signed the document after the agent continued to berate her and say that she would only make things worse for herself if she didn’t. Once she signed, they returned her and her children to the hielera.
While back in the cell, other detained people told Lenora similar stories of abuse and taunts. “I heard from others detained with me that their interviews with him were even worse,” Lenora says. One woman shared that a Border Patrol agent accused her of coming to the US just so she could find a man.
Lenora and her children were detained for three nights, after which Border Patrol expelled them into Mexico at 10 P.M. despite local agreements that require that these repatriations occur before 6:30 P.M. Lenora asked the Mexican National Guard for help but said they couldn’t do anything. Leonora and her children spent the night outside on the street.
Stories like Lenora’s prove that Border Patrol continues to make a mockery of the asylum process and shows rampant disregard for migrant rights. Lenora had the legal right to make her asylum claim and pursue it. Instead, she was threatened and coerced by the very officials who are supposed to uphold US law – including access to asylum. We stand in solidarity with people like Lenora, who are simply in need of protection. Together, we must do everything we can to push for accountability among officials and for a humane, just, and workable immigration system.
*Lenora’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.