Almost five months after a migrant mother and son with ties to Keene arrived in New England, their future in the United States is still up in the air.
Honduran citizens Jessica Baca Garcia and her teenage son, Mario Jafet Cerrito Baca, sought asylum in the United States after crossing the border in May. They had been detained in separate centers in Texas until July. The two were reunited at the end of that month and have since been living with family members in New Bedford, Mass.
Much has changed since then, said their relative Jessica Garcia, who works at The Sentinel. Mario, who goes by Jafet, is attending public school. His English has improved in leaps and bounds, Garcia said. In October, he celebrated his 13th birthday alongside his cousins.
Baca Garcia can’t legally work, so she stays at home, helping her sister cook and clean and watching her toddler niece, Tiaani. Baca Garcia’s new life in New Bedford is safer than her life in Honduras, she told her family members. Still, the anxiety of having been separated from her son lingers, Garcia said.
“Jessica has not left the house at all,” she said. “She’s very nervous all the time, not so much at home but she was afraid to leave the house.”
Baca Garcia sought asylum status for her and Jafet because of “horrific violence” in their native country, including abuse from her boyfriend, who has gang ties, Jessica Garcia said in July. She’s afraid she will be killed if returned to Honduras.
Jafet was one of an estimated 3,000 children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
During their separation in Texas, Baca Garcia went before an immigration judge and her asylum application was denied. For a while, it seemed as though mother and son were destined to get deported.
Around that time, lawyers Nancy Kelly and John Willshire of Boston-based Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services started representing mother and son for free. Willshire said Jafet’s case is proceeding through the immigration system, but that he and Kelly are waiting to hear if Baca Garcia’s case will be re-opened.
In recent months, he said, there have been some favorable developments in the immigration court system that would perhaps allow Baca Garcia’s case to be re-heard. A settlement agreement will allow some parents who were separated from their children at the border to have their cases re-heard.
“This family has gone through an awful lot and it was really an impossible situation for them to be detained,” Willshire said. “And after they got here, they were both really traumatized.”
Willshire said he does not know how long the proceedings will take, or their possible outcomes. But he said both Baca Garcia and her son will continue these proceedings at the immigration court in Boston.
The mother and son’s plight attracted much public attention: A Change.org petition attracted nearly 290,000 signatures, and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., intervened on the pair’s behalf. Also, a crowdfunding campaign for Baca Garcia and her son raised about $2,200.
Jessica Garcia said mother and son are using the funds for their living expenses and to pay for trips to meet their lawyers.
In the meantime, the family vacillates between anxiety and hope. Garcia said the wait has put a strain on the family.
“If they have to pick them up and bring them home I would just be completely devastated,” Garcia said, adding that if Baca Garcia can’t stay in the United States, her son will go with her to Honduras.
At times, Jessica Garcia allows herself to cautiously dream about the future. Perhaps, down the line, the family will start a Honduran food restaurant in the Boston area, and Baca Garcia could work there. Maybe she and Jafet would have enough money to live in an apartment of their own.
But it all hinges on the asylum proceedings, Garcia knows.
Willshire, for his part, is optimistic about Baca Garcia and Jafet’s chances.
“This family is a very particularly special family in the sense that they really suffered incredibly and we’re trying to help them,” he said.