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ICYMI: The Guardian: “She raised her niece like a daughter. Then the US government separated them at the border”

 

In The Guardian’s gut-wrenching piece entitled, “She raised her niece like a daughter. Then the US government separated them at the border,” Valeria Fernández and Jude Joffe-Block detail the tragedy of a six-year-old girl ripped from her only living family member, her aunt Alexa, by the Trump administration’s abhorrent asylum policies. For migrant families seeking asylum, Trump and Republican policies of family separation, detention and cruelty prove America is no longer the shining city on the hill as they flee from persecution and violence. 

Fernández and Joffe-Block detail the horrors Alexa, and so many other migrants, faced, “When Alexa thinks about her family she bows her head to cry. She says she was a teenager when gang members beat her mother to death in front of her in Guatemala over a longstanding land dispute. Two years later, in 2013, the gang returned and murdered her father and sister in the family’s rural home. Alexa managed to flee and looked for help. When she returned home with the police, she found her dead sister’s eight-month-old baby near death, choking in a pool of blood, her little legs bound. The baby was in shock and could not cry. Alexa, then 17, suddenly found herself the sole caregiver of her niece. ‘Every time she cried, I cried with her,’ she says. ‘We grew up together.’”

Alexa, currently detained in Arizona, has been separated from her six-year-old niece, currently in a foster care home in New York, for seven months the longest the two have ever been apart. 

Excerpts from the Guardian piece “She raised her niece like a daughter. Then the US government separated them at the border” are included below: 

The six-year-old girl on the other end of the line tells Alexa she fears they will never be together again. In another 15-minute phone call, she questions if Alexa still loves her. She asks Alexa to pick her up from the family she’s staying with in New York. Alexa hears the girl say the words in Spanish: “You are my mom, I want to be with you.”

Alexa wishes she could go get her. But Alexa’s locked up 2,400 miles away, at an immigration detention center in Arizona.

Alexa, 23, and her six-year-old niece arrived at the US border from Guatemala in early 2019, after gang members murdered much of their family and Alexa was left as the sole caretaker of the little girl. It’s been more than seven months since US officials on the Arizona border separated them. It’s the longest they have ever been apart. Now they are in the hands of a system that won’t make it easy for them to reunite.

…“When we talk about family separation, we are not just talking about DNA families,” Enriquez says. “Immigration officials are still separating families to willfully cause harm to both children and adults for the purpose of deterring future immigration and coercing people who are here now to accept deportation.”

Alexa, who did not want her real name or niece’s name disclosed for fear of reprisal, told her story over a series of phone calls from the Eloy detention center, located 64 miles (103km) from Phoenix, Arizona. During a brief visit at the center, she spoke softly, without ever erasing her welcoming smile. A white rosary peeked out from underneath her dark green uniform.

When Alexa thinks about her family she bows her head to cry. She says she was a teenager when gang members beat her mother to death in front of her in Guatemala over a longstanding land dispute. Two years later, in 2013, the gang returned and murdered her father and sister in the family’s rural home. Alexa managed to flee and looked for help. When she returned home with the police, she found her dead sister’s eight-month-old baby near death, choking in a pool of blood, her little legs bound. The baby was in shock.

Alexa, then 17, suddenly found herself the sole caregiver of her niece. “Every time she cried, I cried with her,” she says. “We grew up together.”

She worked cleaning jobs so she could buy the baby milk, she says. She went on to have a son of her own, but he fell ill and died suddenly at 22 months. In 2018, the gang that killed her family fatally shot her partner outside the couple’s home. The gang shot at Alexa, too, and she fled with the girl, who was five by then.