Illustrated by Chloe Olsen
Part 4 of 6:

The Mothers:

It’s hard to know where to begin writing about the mothers. I heard their stories. I witnessed at least some of their suffering. While I’m prohibited from sharing specific details about their cases, I can say this: These women are gracious and appreciative, courageous and brave, strong, resilient, badass, resourceful, hopeful, believing, dedicated, long-suffering, persevering, sacrificing, beautiful exhausted survivors. Every one.


They (collectively) endured myriad forms of physical abuse including beatings, strangulations, guns to their heads, rape – sometimes repeatedly, hunger, assaults, forced marriages, forced and unpaid labor, psychological and emotional abuse, extortion, threats of all kinds to themselves and to their children, being disowned, being trafficked, witnessing all kinds of violence, etc. , etc… And that list only includes the things from which they fled.

Their journey to the United States was harrowing and dangerous as well, not to mention expensive. Along the way they faced hunger, pain, thirst, exhaustion. They risked being raped, threatened, extorted, and ultimately, losing their lives all over again.

By the time they arrived at our facility they were a bit dazed, perhaps in a state of shock. Some were sick (presumably for the same reasons as their children), or they got sick in previous detention facilities. Many were confused as to why they were there and what was going on. They didn’t understand the process that they were being taken through, what was required of them, or how to get out of there. They were all so burdened with the stress of their situation.


None of the women wanted to leave their home countries. Imagine having to forever leave your friends, family members, favorite foods, your cultures, all that is familiar to you. Some of the women we spoke with articulated that they had made the difficult decision to leave their home countries (sacrificing so much, risking their lives, etc.) even though they knew that there is so much hatred in the US for people like them. It was heartbreaking that we couldn’t tell them otherwise, because it is true, in some circles. We could only say that not everyone feels that way about immigrants.

Many of them expressed a sincere desire to work – hard – in whatever capacity here in the States. They also said that they want to follow the rules, attend their immigration appointments, comply with the laws, etc.

The women we saw were some of the “lucky” ones. Many are sent back across the border to wait for their interviews. Reports are that people who are sent back into México to wait are seen as outsiders and targets for violence, trafficking, extortion, etc. They wait there for weeks, sometimes longer without means for work, without any connections. It can be very dangerous.


The saddest part of interviewing these women, for me, was the fact that many of them hadn’t yet come to terms with the extent or even the reality of the trauma and persecution they had suffered. We would be asking them difficult questions about their pasts in order to identify what was most likely to help them qualify for asylum, and it was clear that sometimes, we were forcing them to see their abuse for what it was. We watched as the wave of realization would come over them. They saw, often for the first time, that the emotional and psychological baggage that they had been carrying had a name, and it was ugly and painful. These were the times when tears would flow and we would need to pause and let women process for a moment, then continue with questioning after regaining composure. It is hard knowing the road to healing that lay in front of them as they, for years to come, will unpack that burden and face and remember ugly truths about their history (I sincerely hope that they each get the therapy that they need someday).

This is a small sampling of the drawing from the children that I was able to salvage during our week of interviews with their mothers.

The Children:

The children we saw ranged from nursing infants up to teenagers. They were traumatized, many were sick and crying, most were clingy to their mothers, and ALL are innocent.

They would color, play peek-a-boo, and be as patient as they could during hours-long visits… until they couldn’t take it any longer. Imagine your child sitting in a small room while your mom spoke to a couple of strangers for HOURS. They were bored out of their minds sometimes. Older kids would try to help and entertain younger kids in the designated kid’s room. When mothers needed to talk about sensitive topics (domestic violence, murders, etc.) and the children wouldn’t leave their side, we were able to bring in headphones and let the children watch a cartoon while we spoke. Sometimes this didn’t work, but it was handy when it did.

Some children were old enough to tell their stories, and were also victims of crimes (threats, abuse, etc.). Many of them were having to come to terms with their suffering for the first time. Watching them try to articulate their pain was heart-breaking. All of the children could also be questioned by an AO.

Part 5
of this story contains information about the Detention center staff, volunteers, and asylum officers.

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