For more than nine months, María, 23, has been waiting in an immigration detention center in Arizona hoping to reunite with the six-year-old niece she raised as a daughter. When the two asked for asylum at the border last March because they feared for their lives in Guatemala, border officials detained María in the Eloy detention center and sent the girl to foster care in New York, 2400 miles away.
The Guardian first reported on the ongoing separation of this family in October. As the story spread, lawmakers and more than 200 clergy asked US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) to grant María parole so she can leave detention and reunite with the girl. A woman in New York volunteered to house them both while María awaits a decision on her appeal for asylum.
But despite that public support, Ice denied María’s application for parole in mid-December.
Parole was once the norm for arriving asylum seekers, but in recent years approvals have become increasingly rare. On a standardized form, Ice officers indicated María failed to prove she was “not a flight risk” or that her “continued detention was not in the public interest”.
María said the denial was “depressing” because it prolongs her separation from the child. She has regular phone calls with her niece, who says she doesn’t want to be apart any more. “But I tell her she has to be patient, wait a little bit longer. Just like I’m doing it myself from here,” María said in Spanish during a phone call from detention on Thursday.
“Why does Ice get to say what the public interest is?” said Suzannah Maclay, one of María’s pro bono attorneys. “It’s very clear what the public is interested in here. It’s helping these people and getting them back together.”
An Ice spokeswoman emailed a statement reciting the facts of María’s case but did not answer why the agency denied parole.