A Honduran woman and her 10-year-old daughter who were detained at the border last month are now in Portland.
They are seeking asylum in the U.S., and as their case is being considered, they are staying with two young women who volunteered to help them.
It was the middle of the afternoon on Jan. 13 when Santa — she asked that her full name not be used — left Honduras. Through an interpreter, Santa said she left to escape violent threats.
“The gangs, they were threatening to kill us,” Santa said. “They would send videos saying they would chop us up in pieces and kill us that way. Because they were mad because we voted for the president that they did not want to win.”
Santa said she and her daughter boarded a bus and headed toward the U.S. They had no plan and few belongings, just a small bag with identification papers and extra clothes. They stopped at churches along the way for help, and waited in Mexico until the end of March to join a caravan of migrants.
“From there, from town to town, we would sleep in churches, or on sidewalks, or with people who wanted to support the migrants,” Santa said.
They got rides when they could. Otherwise, they walked. It was an exhausting journey, and at times Santa said she feared for their safety. As they drew closer to the U.S. border, she worried that officials might take her daughter.
“We were scared because in the caravan, people were saying that they were going to take our children away from us,” Santa said. “And they were saying that they could take our children and we would be deported back.”
But despite this, Santa said they did not want to turn around.
“I said, ‘I’ve sacrificed way too much, and I don’t want to go back to my country,’” Santa said.
So they continued north. In early May, four months after leaving Honduras, they crossed the border in Tijuana. Santa and her daughter remained together, but she said she saw a woman who was separated from her children.
“One was two years old and the other was five years old. And she was crying. She said if I had known, I wouldn’t have thrown myself into all of this. And we were there for about seven days,” Santa said. “When we left, she was still there fighting her case. And she was crying. She just kept crying.”
As she recounted her experience, Santa started to cry. After she was detained at the border, she and her daughter were flown to a detention center in Texas, where they waited for an interview about their asylum case.
“I was so scared they’d say my case was a negative case because so many other people that had happened to, and they were all crying,” Santa said.
Santa wasn’t the only one feeling anxious. Two young women in Portland were also awaiting word on her case.
“So, we found out that we would be hosting Santa and her daughter a week or so before they had crossed the border,” said Meg, who also didn’t want her full name used.
Meg and her roommate Anna connected with Santa through the national organization Showing Up For Racial Justice. They were looking for people willing to host migrants entering the U.S.
“So it was six weeks or maybe a month before they got here and it was just a weird waiting game,” Meg said.
Meg and Anna, who are both 27, had been looking for ways to support migrants, and decided to open up their apartment as a place to stay.
“Just to be able to show that even if the U.S. government is sending out messages of hatred, that you can’t stop the American people from being open-hearted and welcoming and taking people in,” Meg said.
After Santa arrived at the detention center in Texas, she called Meg from time to time, seeking assistance to buy food and medicine for her daughter. Within a few weeks, Meg got a text from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that said Santa and her daughter were being released and needed transportation to Maine. Meg bought them plane tickets from money raised from friends and local churches. They arrived in late May.
“I just thought God has given them a lot of love in order for them to receive us,” Santa said.
Santa and her daughter were found to have what’s called “credible fear” about returning to Honduras. That means they can stay in the U.S. while they wait for their asylum case to be heard.
“This is the safest place that I could be,” Santa said. “I don’t feel threatened or scared. I can go out on the street and walk on the street. I’m not afraid somebody is going to come up and kill me with a knife. It’s a very safe place to be.”
Meg said she and Anna will host Santa and her daughter for as long as they need and are currently trying to find an attorney to take her asylum case. Though she faces an uncertain future, Santa recalled a dream her daughter had while at the detention center.
“She had dream that everything was going to be, turn out OK,” Santa said. “And then when all of this came true, she was very happy because her dream came true.”
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.
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