In Honduras, Tania saw her own mother murdered by gang members. Her sister-in-law, who was also a witness, was kidnapped, tortured, and killed to keep her from testifying. But it wasn't until the gang MS-13 left a note on her door saying she had 45 minutes to leave that she and her family decided to flee to the U.S. to apply for asylum.
That's according to reporting from NPR on Monday, which details how Tania and her three children were forcibly separated from her husband, Joseph, at the Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas. Per NPR:
The agent turned to the couple's youngest daughter—3-year-old Sofia, whom they call Sofi—and asked her to make a choice. "The agent asked her who she wanted to go with, mom or dad," her mother, Tania, told NPR through an interpreter. "And the girl, because she is more attached to me, she said mom. But when they started to take [my husband] away, the girl started to cry. The officer said, 'You said [you want to go] with mom.'"
The story continues: "When the three children realized the family faced separation, they latched on to Joseph—the son around his neck and a daughter around each leg, the parents said. Joseph was taken to another cell."
The family was sent back to Mexico, to be held in Juárez as part of the Trump administration's new "Migrant Protection Protocols" policy, more commonly referred to as "remain in Mexico." It requires that people filing asylum claims, which for now can only be done at certain U.S. points of entry, be removed from the country while their claims are processed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims that when asylum seekers are allowed to remain in the U.S., they often vanish without ever appearing for their court dates. The immigrant advocacy group RAICES has called that claim baseless, saying that of the more than 500 people whose bonds they paid for in the past year, 97 percent have appeared at their hearings. Since June, an estimated 17,000 people have been forced back across the U.S.-Mexico border while they await their hearings, according to The Intercept.
A federal court ordered the Trump administration to stop forcibly separating children from their parents and guardians when they arrive in the U.S., but Tania's story shows that Border Patrol is still finding ways and reasons to split families apart while they're in custody. The Texas Tribune also reports that more than 30 children are still being held in U.S. custody, and at least a third of their parents were deported. That's not counting hundreds of unaccompanied children kept in camps across the country managed by for-profit private companies.
According to NPR, a lawyer representing Tania's family and a doctor working on contract for the Department of Homeland Security both told Border Patrol agents that the family shouldn't be held in Mexico since Sofi has a serious heart condition. DHS's own guidelines say that people with "known physical/mental health issues" are exempt from the administration's "remain in Mexico policy." The doctor reportedly tried to advocate for the family, telling agents that the family shouldn't be separated since they arrived together and even staying an hour past his shift to try to prevent the separation.
He also tried to intervene when the agent made Sofia pick which parent would be removed. Tania said, "The doctor told me, don't let them ask her because they don't have the right to ask a minor." Sofia had to choose regardless.
Originally Appeared on GQ