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‘I Would Go to the Moon and Back to Get My Daughter Out of Detention’

immigrant rights fingerprint

Iris Griselda Cruz Paz’s daughter cries when she talks to her. She begs her mother every time they speak to get her out of detention.

Ms. Cruz Paz fled violence in Honduras five years ago, hoping to bring her daughters with her later after she won asylum. Her 14-year-old daughter, referred to in court documents at S.E.V., fled on her own before that could happen, and has been detained in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement for the last two months.

Ms. Cruz Paz has done everything the government has asked in order to get her daughter back. But in mid-August she was told she had to be fingerprinted—and could not get an appointment to do so until early September, over a month after her daughter was detained. She was able to get an earlier appointment. But even then, she waited another month and a half for her fingerprints to be processed. Her daughter’s care provider told her the release was simply on hold until the results came back. On October 1, NYCLU sued on her behalf, challenging the long delays caused by the new fingerprint requirement.

What follows is a distillation of a declaration submitted to the court by Ms. Cruz Paz in which she explains what she’s had to go through to try to get her daughter out of detention.

When did you come to the United States and why?

I came to the U.S. seeking asylum in 2013, leaving behind my two daughters in Honduras. I did not want to but I had no choice: if I had stayed, I would have been killed. In May 2017, I won my asylum case and have now applied for my lawful permanent residency. After I won asylum, I planned to bring my two daughters in Honduras to the U.S. lawfully. But my daughter S.E.V. could not wait: without telling me, she fled to the U.S. in July 2018 for her own safety.

Have you been able to visit your daughter?

Since S.E.V. got to New York, I have been able to visit her twice at Children’s Village in Dobb’s Ferry and to speak with her twice a week for ten minutes. She cries almost every time we talk, telling me she wants me to get her out. It causes me immense pain to visit her and then to leave without her. I am pregnant and due to give birth October 20. I have a high-risk pregnancy and I am scared every day that if I go into labor, I won’t be able to visit my daughter or comply with any more requirements that immigration puts on me.

How long have you been waiting for the government to release S.E.V. to you? What is taking so long?

I learned S.E.V. had come to the U.S. when I received a call from an immigration official in Texas in late July. About a week later, I got a call from a case worker at The Children’s Village in New York saying that my daughter was here and I needed to fill out some documents and to send them my identification and other documents in order for her to be released to me. I sent everything right away, by August 8, 2018.

Then the caseworker told me that I and other adults in the home would have to get fingerprinted. She gave me an appointment to be fingerprinted in Manhattan on September 3, 2018. I told her this was very far off: I didn’t want to wait so long. But she said that was the soonest available appointment. On August 21, I decided to take the train into Manhattan and go to the fingerprint vendor to see if I could get fingerprinted sooner. The woman there was nice to me and said someone had cancelled, so I could be fingerprinted that day.

It has now been over a month. Since then, I have just been waiting for my daughter’s release. Her caseworker has told me there is nothing that I or any lawyer can do: we just have to wait for the fingerprints.

What has your daughter told you about life at Children’s Village? How is she doing?

It’s like a new trauma, being detained after what she went through to escape violence in Honduras. She has been mistreated by other children there. One girl hit her and she had to go to the clinic, and a boy groped her. She says feels like she went from one trauma to another and she does not understand why this is happening to her. She always tells me she doesn’t know what crime she committed to deserve this or why she is a “prisoner.”

The longer she is detained, the more I fear it is affecting her. And I worry she will stop giving any weight to my words: that she will think I have lied to her that I have done everything I can and that I am trying my best to get her out.

I would go to the moon and back to get my daughter out of detention, because I am her mother and I love her and I know she is suffering. I want to bring her home with me to give her stability and show her that not everything is bad, not everyone in the world wants to hurt her.

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