Dora Alvarado says that she knew back on March 12, during an immigration hearing that something was not right. She sat with her two daughters as a court translator explained to her that she and her 15-year-old daughter were on the docket for that day, but that her 11-year-old daughter was not on the list.
A few days later, Alvarado received a letter from the courts addressed to her 11-year-old daughter Laura. The letter was written in English. Alvarado cannot read or speak English. She did not know the contents of the letter until she returned to court in April when a translator read her the letter and gave her the heartbreaking news that Laura was being sent back to El Salvador alone.
“I don’t want to leave my mom,” Laura said Thursday. “I want to stay with her.”
A press conference was held by FIEL, a local immigration advocacy group. During the press conference the family’s attorney, Silvia Mintz, stated that she would be filing a motion to re-open the Alvarado’s case. Mintz blamed immigration officials for Laura’s missed court date, which resulted in a deportation order.
Dora Alvarado and her two daughters entered the United States through the southern border back in October. Alvarado explained to government officials that they feared to return to their home country of El Salvador. The family was released to pursue asylum. They complied with all court orders and appearance dates.
The Alvarado’s were just three of the 57,200 Central American parents and children that were fleeing from gang violence and extreme poverty in the month of October. The numbers of immigrants crossing the border seeking a safe place to raise their families have not dropped despite the Trump administration overturning a provision that allowed immigrants fleeing domestic and gang violence to qualify for protection.
The Trump administration even tried to ban those crossing illegally from seeking asylum and forced others to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases proceeded through the courts, but federal judges have blocked both the latter measures.
The Alvarado’s attorney blames the Executive Office for Immigration Review, a branch of the Justice Department overseeing immigration courts, for the error that has resulted in Laura Alverado’s deportation.
“This mistake done by the immigration court has put this family in jeopardy,” Mintz said. “They will be separated if this is not stopped.”
A spokesperson for the Executive Office for Immigration Review has confirmed the removal order was issued and added that the case is currently being looked at again.
The letter that Alvarado received stated that Laura was being deported back to El Salvador because she did not appear for the March 12 court date. It is unclear if the family was given incorrect information by the court translator, or if Laura’s case slipped through the cracks.
Ruby L. Powers, a Houston immigration lawyer, shared that Laura’s attorney had 30 days from the deportations court date to try and get the case re-opened. She added that the court system has become so chaotic that some people have been given incorrect court dates. Powers said that Laura is the youngest, but not the only individual to receive deportation notices due to clerical errors.
Heartbreakingly it is not uncommon for child migrants to be deported alone, but it usually happens when they entered the country alone rather with their parents or other adults.
If Laura is deported back to El Salvador alone her life could be put in great danger. Much of El Salvador has become a violent and bloody landscape due to gang violence. Alvarado says she fled with her daughters because “Uncles, nephews, classmates, and others have been kidnapped or murdered in retaliation.” During the press conference Dora held up a photo a young girl, who was their neighbor, that was left for dead on a dirt road near their home.
Alvarado says that she lived through El Salvador’s civil war that took place in the 80s and she says the country was safer then.
“The gangs don’t play by the rules of war,” she said. “It’s just violence for the sake of violence.”
Alvarado’s oldest daughter, Adamaris told her mother that a gang member had been harassing her and threatened to kill the rest of her family if she told anyone.
“That’s when mom told us we were going to the United States,” Laura said.
The family was scheduled to appear in court in February, but the date was moved to March due to the government shutdown.
Alvarado says that she trusted the court translator when she assured her that everything would work out fine when it came to Laura. The removal letter she received later proved she was wrong to put her trust in her.
After the family received the removal letter Adamaris, talked to her school counselor about the situation that conversation led to the family being put in touch with FIEL and Mintz, who offered to represent Laura free of charge.
Laura is worried and frightened about what her future holds, but she is doing her best to remain positive and enjoy her time in the United States, which she calls a “beautiful and new country.” She finds comfort being with her family and playing with her dog, Lalo.
Laura says she does miss her friends in El Salvador and she worries about their safety. She shares that she wants to be a “police officer when I grow up. I want to keep people safe from the bad guys.”
A real president would step up in this situation. A real president would state “this is an innocent child and we must ensure she remains with her family.” Sadly, we do not have a president with compassion so for the Alvarado’s we must all hope that our immigration system does the right thing by Laura and protects her from returning to a country alone where her life will be put at great risk.