Mayora is no ordinary 15-year-old. Last year, she endured a treacherous two-month journey to the safety of the US after a gang member in Honduras attempted to kill her.
It’s sadly a common story for thousands of other Central American mothers and children residing in the United States.
But because Mayora’s request for asylum was denied — and her appeal date is not until 2018 — she and other Central American refugees now live in an even more heightened sense of fear after the Obama Administration’s decision to conduct yet another round of deportation raids.
That’s why Mayora, her mom, and two US citizen sisters joined other Central American parents and children for a press conference in Washington DC this week with leading House Democrats — to call for relief for those fleeing violence and a halt to raids.
“I’m afraid because they tried to kill me,” Maryora told ThinkProgress on Wednesday, in between visits with congressional lawmakers. “I don’t want to die, you know. I came by myself to be with my mom and I almost died because of the violence in my country. I wanted to be safe in this country, to be a better person.”
Since her arrival in the United States last year, Maryora has been the ultimate big sister to Diana, 12, and Valeria, 7. Both girls, who are U.S. citizens, understand what Maryora’s deportation could mean to their family. Diana would lose the person who teaches her about makeup and helps her with homework. For Valeria, it would mean the loss of a roommate, babysitter, and playmate.
Maryora’s mother, Tania, teared up at the thought of an immigration raid’s potential impact on her girls. She’s afraid that ICE officials will knock on her door unannounced, as they did to hundreds of immigrants during a similar immigration operation at the beginning of this year.
“We’re really scared now,” Tania told ThinkProgress through an interpreter. “We can’t even answer the door without thinking something might happen. I don’t even take my daughters to the park because we’re just so afraid that somebody might take us and separate us.”
Maryora and her family aren’t the only ones who are petrified of the impending raids. Previous raids have had a chilling effect on parents who have been too afraid of sending their children to school or too nervous to leave the house to go to work.
Last week, Democratic lawmakers publicly criticized the Obama administration’s decision to initiate more raids. And during Wednesday’s press conference, Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) came down particularly hard on President Obama, arguing the country needs to do more to give asylum seekers a way to have their court cases adjudicated.
“Until people have an opportunity for real due process, it is wrong to target them for removal especially when the stakes are so high,” Lofgren said. “It’s not just that they’re leaving, it’s that they’re leaving to be killed.”
The Obama administration has come close to acknowledging that targeting Central American families for deportation could in fact be a death sentence for them.
“Crime and violence are again the primary factors behind migration from these countries,” Jonathan T. Hiskey, an associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, said on a separate press conference call on Wednesday. “In sum, Central American refugees are fleeing the devil they know, no matter how menacing the devil that may await them on their journey or arrival to the U.S.”
Sliding up like she wanted to divulge a secret, Valeria told ThinkProgress she wanted to do something to help Maryora. “I’m going to share my papers with my sister because I really want her to stay here,” she said.
Maryora beamed with pride when she heard what Valeria said. But she also understands it isn’t nearly that easy to obtain a legal pathway to citizenship.
“We came here because in our countries there’s a lot of violence,” Maryora said. “We want to be with our families. We’re not criminals. We just want to be with our families and be safe.”