Nonprofits on the Border: What Reunification Can Take

July 20, 2018
Nonprofit Quarterly

Reina Isabella and her 17-year-old daughter, Diana, were separated at the US-Mexico border for more than 40 days. Fleeing violence in El Salvador, the two were met with more violence and ruthlessness at the border, forcibly separated. Reina was brought to a detention facility 300 miles away from where she and her child crossed the border, and Reina was not told where her daughter was and was not able to communicate with her.

Only through the work of the Austin nonprofit Grassroots Leadership was Reina able to apply for asylum and be reunited with Diana. The nonprofit paid her $1,500 bond, located Diana in Brownsville, Texas, and negotiated a visit a few hours long. Despite proving to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that Reina had a place for her and Diana to stay waiting for their asylum case, the Department would not release Diana. With nowhere to stay in southern Texas, Grassroots Leadership paid for a motel for Reina as she waited for the caseworkers to release Diana. Finally, through the work of Reina and her partnership with Grassroots Leadership, the pair were reunited.

Advocates working with migrant families wonder how the federal government can expect parents to navigate the reunification process on their own. Claudia Muños, director of the immigration programs at Grassroots Leadership has seen how much support Reina had, and how difficult it was for her to be reunited with only one child. The organization has threatened to camp outside shelters after federal officials showed little interest in reuniting two other mothers with their children. Without their advocacy and service, Reina and Diana could still be hundreds of miles apart.