Americans across the country with relatives detained at the border are working to be reunited with their loved ones.
One woman in Keene created a petition to help her sister-in-law, Jessica Baca Garcia, and nephew, Mario "Jafet" Cerrito Baca be released after traveling from Honduras. Jessica Garcia’s Change.org petition now has over 55,000 signatures. But she learned on Thursday that her sister-in-law’s asylum claim was denied.
Garcia spoke with All Things Considered host Peter Biello about how her relatives are doing in detention in Texas.
Can you tell us exactly what happened to your sister-in-law and nephew?
As much as I know I can tell you. My husband and I, our family were vacationing in Florida when we got a phone call that she had tried to claim asylum and was detained in Texas. At that point we weren't too worried. We thought maybe she'd be released or something and you know would later have court hearings and such. But obviously, as you can tell, she's never been released and her and my nephew have been separated. And that's when I decided to call Jeanne Shaheen's office when we knew that things weren't moving along, to try to see what we could do to get them released and back together.
And they would be released in part because they have had their day in court, correct?
Well they have, but I know very little about that. Well, they had an interview, I guess. They do an asylum interview to see if they have a credible threat and then that was denied. So then they went to court and that was also denied.
What were they in court for the second time?
We don't even really know. I believe it was the appeals process. I didn't even know it was the appeal until after it already happened. I mean, getting the information has been really difficult. Most people wait for their court date at home or have a bond. I heard people posted bond. Not once did anyone say, "Oh, you could post a bond to have her set free." Nothing, we've heard absolutely nothing on that.
Part of the reason her asylum claim may have been denied is because of a new order issued in June that domestic and gang violence alone are no longer grounds for asylum. What do you think your sister-in-law will face if she has to return to Honduras?
Oh, yes, so she was definitely seeking domestic abuse asylum. And you're right, that is the reason why it was denied because last month Jeff Sessions did away with that. And so, if she goes back she's not going to be able to go back to the village she was living in. She'd have to live with other family, sort of go into hiding and we'd have to try to find another option. So, yes, it's not a good outcome.
How much contact do they have with each other, your nephew and your sister-in-law?
They haven't had any as far as I know. My nephew can talk to my other sister-in-law a couple times a week and was able to talk to my husband last week on the Fourth of July just for a couple of minutes. We finally heard word from my sister-in-law yesterday. She called my sister-in-law as well, just for a few minutes. So the contact is very minimal. I do not believe they've had any contact, though, with each other.
What can you gather from those brief conversations about how they're doing?
They're not doing well. Obviously Jessica is not doing well. She's distraught. Not only is she afraid of going back to Honduras but she really is worried about her son, really wants to be with Jafet obviously. And I think she's also scared that maybe they're not going to be reunited or that they're going to be separated forever now. So we're really trying to get that squared away. We really want her to be with her son, no matter what happens that's number one.
And the second thing is, Jafet, when he calls his voice cracks. He's like, "How's my mom?" He wants to be with his aunt. When my husband talked to him he was interested in knowing what my husband was doing. And you could tell he was wanting to be there with us, you know in spirit and everything else. So it's just a tough situation.
So what is the next thing that you are waiting for as you hope for a positive resolution to the situation?
Well, supposedly Jessica just signed a paper to be reunited with Jafet, but they're still not together. It's supposed to happen in the next week or two. But, you know, who knows? And secondly we would love it if something could change the case, find a way for her to seek asylum. Because, you know, they're not here to do anything bad. They want to be hard workers. They just want a better life.
Jessica Garcia is the Director of Interactive Media at The Keene Sentinel and has two relatives detained in Texas.