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A Call to Catholic Charities NY Helps Immigrant Mother Abused by Agents at US Border

ICE agent at US Mexico Border
US Border Patrol Agent at the US-Mexico Border. Credit: iStock 

by Jim Sliney Jr.

THE CALL THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING

A Guatemalan woman living in California picked up the phone and called for help. The hotline she called was staffed by Catholic Charities New York. That single call ended both her nightmare of abuse, led to her 12 year-old son being moved out of a now infamous U.S. border holding-facility, and was followed by a decade-overdue reunion with her son.

THE WOMAN AND HER SON

She emigrated from Guatemala 11 years ago. She lives in California now. She is 48-years old, undocumented and working as a housecleaner for an American family. Her goal for the last 11 years has been singular – make money to send back to her family in Guatemala.

When her son turned 12, she sent for him to come live with her in California. She knew her boy, who she hadn’t seen since he was 8-months old, was ripe for gang recruitment back in Guatemala. She needed to get him out to save his life.

This last April, her son crossed the border into the United States. He ended up at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas - the very same facility that has been dominant in the news for filthy, inhumane conditions.

As she tried to reach her son, she made contact with a U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent at the Clint facility. He reassured her that her son was okay and offered information and comfort. She even got to speak with her son. But then things got bad.

PREDATION

When the woman called a legal-assistance hotline operated by Catholic Charities New York, the ugly truth came to light. The woman reported that the border agent who she had spoken to at the Clint facility had performed sexual misdeeds over a video chat with her. This man took advantage of his position of authority, and his power over her son’s wellbeing to coerce her into observing his depravity.

The woman told the Washington Post (under terms of anonymity for fear of retribution) “I felt like the world was falling on top of me. I felt my son is in the hands of a bad man.”

A TOXIC ATTITUDE TOWARDS “OTHERS”

The horror of this behavior surfaces even as scores of U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees are under investigation for their alleged participation in a secret Facebook group. It is reported that members of these groups shared racist and sexist memes, joked about the deaths of immigrants and made derogatory, sexists remarks about Latina members of Congress.

A LONG-AWAITED REUNION

The call she had made seeking legal assistance led to a visit by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s office of Professional Responsibility. They believed her, reviewed evidence of the video calls between her and the agent and launched an investigation.

Within days, her son was transferred out of the Clint facility and taken to the Department of Health and Human Services where they worked towards reunification of the two.

Finally, on June 12th, almost 2 months after arriving in the United States, and over 11 years since they had been with one another, mother and son were reunited.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE PHONE

If the woman did not make the call that she did, who knows how much worse things might be for her and her son now?

Thankfully, most of us will never have to call such a hotline in such a situation. So, what did the person who answered the phone do? What is the service provided in such a case?

In this particular case, the call was reported to the CBP leadership which led to her son being removed from the Clint facility and the agent being separated from the family. Is that a typical response? It could be, and here’s why.

Connection to a legal aid group: There are more and more legal resources being made available to immigrants. Catholic Charities Community Services, for instance, offers legal consultations, representation, and assistance through their division of Immigrant and Refugee Services.

Access to a network of services: Using Catholic Charities New York as an example, there is a network of 90 agencies servicing their 5 principal missions. That’s a powerful network to tap into.

Prompt, professional attention: Catholic Charities hotline staff are a very dedicated group who each day face challenging situations, stressed and anxious callers, and with whom they practice high professional standard. They participate in ongoing training on immigration laws, regulations, procedures and developments, as well as learn the array of social services available to unaccompanied minors and their custodians, asylees, refugees, immigrants, and clients in need. They document, maintain and report all call data; which is how, in cases like this, CBP would have had sufficient data to launch an investigation.

Compassion: The trainings staffers receive helps them understand the troubles facing clients. That understanding is the doorway to compassion. It is not enough to pity those who are suffering – compassion creates a mutual investment in the wellbeing and prosperity the other.

Put that all together, and the resources for doing good and righting wrongs is extremely powerful.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21