PINOLE, Calif. (KTVU) - A woman seeking asylum in the U.S. is closely watching the developments at the southern border as she waits for her teenage son to cross with the migrant caravan.
Veronica Aguilar of El Salvador said her 15-year-old son is with other minors as part of the migrant caravan in Tijuana, Mexico. She said her son was being helped by immigration attorneys, but he was detained by the Mexican government along with seven other minors as they attempted to cross the border and apply for asylum last week. She is unsure what will happen next.
“I won’t feel calm or at peace until he’s with me,” Aguilar said last week at a home in Pinole.
The 36-year-old currently lives with Ann and Kent Moriarty. The couple agreed to sponsor Aguilar while she appeals the denial of her asylum case. Aguilar said she fled gang violence and death threats in her home country.
“There are so many people who come here and they tell you your case isn’t important, that’s it’s not strong enough, you don’t have enough evidence,” she said. “What do they want? For me to be dead and say, ‘You know what? Can you grant my spirit asylum?’”
Aguilar came to the U.S. in October 2017 in a smaller migrant caravan and applied for asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry. She was detained for seven months. She said an immigration judge gave her bail of a $15,000 and she could only be released to a sponsor family. The Moriartys had done previous work with an immigration advocacy group called “Pueblas sin Fronteras” and were put in touch with Aguilar.
“What so many people don’t understand is that the violence that people are living with in Central America is so bad,” Aguilar said. “We leave our countries because we’re afraid to live over there.”
Aguilar said she would not let her son leave their house in El Salvador out of fear he would be killed on the streets like so many other young men.
“I want him to come here and be able to go to school. I want to walk with him on the streets of San Francisco without fear that something bad will happen to him,” she said.
On Sunday, border officials said nearly 1,000 migrants went around a border crossing at San Ysidro and attempted to enter the country illegally. The move prompted U.S. authorities to close the port of entry for several hours and U.S. border agents fired tear gas at migrants who were trying to get through fencing and wire. U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said agents were being assaulted and had rocks and bottles being thrown at them.
President Trump tweeted on Monday that he would permanently close the border if need be.
Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis, said U.S. border officials are still processing asylum claims at a slow rate.
“What Trump has proposed is that people remain in Mexico while cases are being processed,” Cooper said. “That has yet to happen. Advocates, I think, would have a strong position to say that that process is not one that's legal.”
Moriarty said she and her husband opened their home to Aguilar because they felt it was important.
“Kent and I have traveled a lot in Central America and Latin America and have always been welcomed into people’s homes,” Moriarty said. “For us it feels like a small way that we can give back. It’s given us the opportunity to open our world a little more to understand more about people and understand their conditions.”
She said sometimes people can forget that migrants are people too.
“Every person is an individual person with their own story,” she added. “They're humans. And if we react in fear, I don't know what we're afraid of.”
Aguilar wishes more families would open their doors to others.
“No words can express how my heart feels,” Aguilar said of the Moriartys. “They are my family. I have everything with them.”
As she waits for word from her son, she wants others to know migrants from Central America are not bad people.
“We’re all the same. No one is better than the other. We all just want to live a peaceful life. We don’t come for money. We come for a better life.”