How Separation Affected A Migrant Family
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Hundreds of migrant children are still separated from their families as a result of the Trump administration's earlier zero-tolerance immigration policy at the border. Some migrant children have been reunited. But their pain and trauma continue.
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) He doesn't want to go to school because he thinks he's not going to see me again and that I won't be there when he comes home.
SIMON: Mircy, who is 32 years old, fled Guatemala with her 3-year-old son because she says her husband drank a lot and hit her. She says she paid a smuggler $25,000 to get them to the U.S. border, so they could apply for asylum. They reached the border at San Luis, Ariz., in February but were separated by U.S. officials - separated for five months. We're only using Mircy's first name because she fears how this interview could affect her asylum claim. Mircy remained in a detention center in Arizona. Her son was placed in a shelter in Phoenix and with a family in Texas.
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) Two months he was in Texas with a family. And they would take me out every eight days to sign deportation papers so that I would sign to go without him. And then at some point, they said that if I signed the papers, I could go with him. The Guatemalan consulate told me not to sign it because I shouldn't go anywhere without my son. So that really scared me.
SIMON: Did officials more or less force you to sign a document that you were going to be deported? Is that what they kept asking?
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) Yes. That's what it was - by force. I said, if you give me my son, I'll sign. And they said, yes. He's here close by. But I said, until I see him with my own eyes, I'm not going to sign the papers. Officials in blue and khaki came by. And they asked me why I was separated from my son because, at that point, he was 3 years and 4 months. And they said that he was way too young to have been separated from me and that they were going to reunite us. So one night, they took me out of the detention center. They called my sister to buy tickets to pick us up because we were going to be together again.
SIMON: What was that like?
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) It was very sad because when they started to pass the kids back - when they started to give us our kids back, he said he didn't know me. And that was really hard for me. That's how it was. It was really hard for me because he didn't want to see me. He hit me in the face. And he said, take me to Lorena, (ph) to her house because they wash me there. They take care of me. I don't want to be with you. And he doesn't want to go to school. And I tell him to because you have to learn. And I'll be right back. So I'm still in this recovery process with him because he doesn't want to lose me.
SIMON: It sounds - as I don't have to tell you - as if your son is having a rough time.
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) Yes. That's it. But now, sometimes, he remembers. And he says, you're not going to leave. You're going to be here it with me. And now he doesn't even want to sleep by himself. So he sleeps with me and grabs me and holds me. And he wants me to be near.
SIMON: What do you worry about when it comes to your son in the months and the years ahead for you?
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) I'm worried because he doesn't want to go to school. And immigration might say I don't send him to school. So I try and convince him by telling him I'm going to buy him a "Peppa Pig" backpack. But he doesn't want to go. So I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't think I'm going to be able to get him to go to school this year, but maybe next year.
SIMON: Well, he's 3. I'd say it's important to be with his mother.
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) Yes. I have him coddled. I'm taking care of him, so he forgets the moment he was taken away. The worst part about that is that he was taken while he was sleeping. He was sleeping along the way. So he woke up without me.
SIMON: I'm sorry. They took your child while he was sleeping?
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) Yes. He was sleeping when they came for more kids. The other kids were older, so they stayed awake. But he's younger, so he was sleeping. And I was holding him while he was sleeping for a while. But when they took him away, he was still asleep. So he woke up without me.
SIMON: So when he went to sleep he was - I'm having a difficult time with this. When he went to sleep, he was in his mother's arms. And when he woke up, he thought his mother had given him up.
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) That's how it went. And that's, I think, why he's so afraid. I think that's why he's so afraid. And he's afraid that I just won't be with him.
SIMON: When is your little boy's birthday?
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) The 8 of November.
SIMON: OK. My wife and I have a little girl whose birthday is November 2. And she will be 11 years old. And we sent her - I think she was about 3. We sent her to preschool because people said it was a good idea. And she hated it. So we stopped that after a few days. And now she's a straight-A student. And it's the best thing we ever did. She needed to be with her mother.
MIRCY: (Through interpreter) That's how it is. One's kids are the most important thing in the world. And you'd do anything for them. I'm doing everything possible. I'm talking to him nicely. I'm giving him lots of hugs and telling him whatever I can so that he won't be afraid anymore.
SIMON: Mircy, a woman from Guatemala who now lives in Florida with her sister as she applies for asylum. U.S. immigration officials have denied they've pressured separated parents into signing any deportation documents. Our interpreter has been NPR producer Christina Cala.
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