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Separated At The Border: Following One Family's Tale Of Seeking Asylum In Texas

Reynaldo Leal / The Texas Tribune
Marcos Samayoa waits on the Brownsville/Gateway International Bridge in June 2018. Reporter Neena Satija has been following the journey of Marcos and his family for The Texas Tribune and the public radio program Reveal.

Hundreds of kids are still separated from their migrant parents, despite Thursday's deadline for the Trump administration to reunite families.

Investigative reporter Neena Satija has been following one of those families — Marcos, Sandy and their four children — for the Texas Tribune and Reveal. Satija talked with KERA about what she learned while reporting the story. 

Interview highlights

On why the family left Guatemala

Back in February, the family started getting anonymous phone calls from a gang they believe to be MS-13. They were indeterminate threats like, "If you don't listen to me, we're going to come after you. There will be consequences." Armed men started showing up at the family's house in southwest Guatemala, and at one point the men banged on the door while just one of their four sons was home — by himself, with a neighbor. That's when they decided to flee. They took the kids out of school and headed north.

After the family decided to flee Guatemala, they decided that Sandy and the kids would go first, and Marcos would follow. In fact, Marcos didn't know that Sandy and the kids had in fact crossed the border at that very same bridge in Matamoros just a few weeks earlier. 

On Sandy's separation from her infant son

She was breastfeeding her baby, and when the Customs and Border Protection agents took him away, she told them, "But I'm still breastfeeding him." It wasn't as if she was in the act at the moment, but he's a 5-month-old baby, and they took him, anyway. In California, we saw her giving the baby formula and she said, "This is what I have to do now." Her breast milk dried up while she was at Port Isabel separated from her son.

That was a real emotional moment, obviously. It's hard to imagine what she would have gone through in Port Isabel when that happened and how she's dealing with it now. 

On where the family stands

There's a long road ahead for the family. Because Sandy had tried to cross in the United States previously and had been deported — she hadn't known about the concept of asylum at the time — she's not actually eligible for full asylum. She's eligible for what's called "withholding of removal." If she ultimately wins her case in front of an immigration judge, she can stay in the U.S. but she can never get permanent residency. She can't get a green card. She can get work authorization, but leaving the country is precarious because it's not clear whether she'd be able to come back. 

On where Marcos is now

We actually don't know. When we were at the family's apartment in California, his mother-in-law had said that she hadn't heard from him in a while. He was still stuck in Mexico trying to figure out what to do. I think part of it was waiting on what happens with his wife's withholding of removal case to see if actually makes sense to try and cross over to seek asylum himself.  

These interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.