Voices Of Migrants Elena Santizo was released from an immigration detention center this week just in time to meet the court-imposed deadline. Her destination after release was Tennessee to be reunited with her family.
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Voices Of Migrants

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Voices Of Migrants

Voices Of Migrants

Voices Of Migrants

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Elena Santizo was released from an immigration detention center this week just in time to meet the court-imposed deadline. Her destination after release was Tennessee to be reunited with her family.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The work of unifying families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border continues, even though the court-imposed deadlines to reunite them have passed. Hundreds of cases remain unsolved, including those of parents deported without their kids. In a moment, we'll talk to one of those parents. He's back in Honduras without his 14-year-old daughter. But first, we go to El Paso, where reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe spent the past few days following community advocates and the migrant families they're helping.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Taking groups one, two, three and four through the priority lane for flight...

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: Elena Santizo sat in an airport with a rosary around her neck, waiting nervously to board a plane for the first time in her life.

ELENA SANTIZO: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "It's difficult to tell my story," she says. Santizo fled violence and an earthquake that destroyed her home in rural Guatemala. When she entered the U.S. this spring, border authorities detained her and took her three children. She didn't hear from them for 20 days.

E. SANTIZO: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "I felt like hurting myself or killing myself," she said. "The suffering I endured will be very difficult to forget." On Thursday, Santizo was finally released. This flight from El Paso to Tennessee was the last leg in a 2,000-mile journey. Hours later in a carpeted airport foyer, she embraced her children for the first time in three months.

E. SANTIZO: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "My son, how are you? It hurt so much when they took you away," she said, squeezing her 7-year-old. Santizo's kids were released to their father, Angel, about a month ago. He's been in the U.S. four years already, working the night shift at a factory.

ANGEL SANTIZO: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "When I knew they were in danger, I couldn't sleep. I fell into a depression," he said. Now that they're together, he feels more at peace. But how long that peace will last is uncertain. His wife, who has come seeking asylum, is set to appear before an immigration judge next month. It's stories like these that spur locals in El Paso to help with these reunifications.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

LETY MARQUEZ: Hi, Shali (ph). I just picked up Casa Vides...

URIBE: Lety Marquez and her husband Gino were supposed to be on vacation in Las Vegas. But instead, they're shuttling immigrant families from shelters to the airport.

MARQUEZ: When my husband told me about what happened with the kids and the parents, I said, OK. Let's go. Let's do it.

URIBE: The couple runs a small transport company in El Paso.

MARQUEZ: Last Saturday, I moved, I think, 96 people (laughter).

URIBE: This Saturday, Marquez pulls up to one of those shelters in her Dodge Caravan and picks up another group from Guatemala. They wear donated clothes and carry little more than a tote bag and stuffed animal.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: A 4-year-old with a Ninja Turtle backpack gets a smooch from a shelter volunteer before piling into the van. He's smiling, happy to be reunited with his mom. She climbs silently into the back seat. Like so many others, they have a future court date where they'll try and fight deportation.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: Inside the shelter, volunteer cooks boil eggs and fry potatoes. Shalini Thomas, a business student on summer break, manages travel logistics from a couch just beyond the kitchen.

SHALINI THOMAS: On a good day, I go home at midnight. And on a bad day, I go home at 3. And then I do it again.

URIBE: When asked why she's not relaxing with her family in Iowa, she says...

THOMAS: The same reason that so much of the American public is here and is donating - because showing our disagreement with what the government is doing by being present with these families and helping these families is really important.

URIBE: Things at the shelter are unlikely to slow down. The Trump administration has yet to reunite hundreds of families it claims are ineligible for reunification. Going forward, the government will have to report its progress to a federal judge as it works to resolve those remaining cases. For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in El Paso.

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