In March 2018, Morena Mendoza and her son, Antonio, fled their home in El Salvador fearing for their lives. They joined a caravan of migrants that walked hundreds of miles to seek refuge in the U.S.
When they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on April, they were detained and separated. Morena was sent to an immigration detention center in San Diego, where she was imprisoned for three months, and Antonio was sent to a shelter in New York.
They were finally reunited last fall, thanks to support from AFSC, Miami Friends Meeting, and many others. Today, as their immigration cases continue, they are living in a home provided by Miami Friends Meeting.
Here is a poem written by Kathy Hersh, clerk of Miami Friends Meeting.
Only Part of Morena’s Story
Her name is Morena.
She wears an electronic monitor on her right ankle that she can’t take off and keeps covered with long pants.
It is always there, reminding her of the journey she hoped would set her free.
Free from the violence night and day, making sleep impossible.
Violence which found her one day so helpless she could not fight back.
There were too many strong arms holding her down.
“Let’s go North,” her neighbors said. “We will be safe together.”
Morena and her young son Antonio left with others also desperate to save themselves.
The Journey North
They walked until their shoes lost their soles and strangers handed them new ones.
North was their salvation. North was where they had a brother, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, with a roof, a bed, a job.
North was where they could finally sleep and dream of a new life without fear, hunger, and despair.
Where the landscape was free of corpses, the smell of death, the sound of gunfire.
But they had migrated from one kind of hell to another, an ICE cold hell.
Cold steel bar cages, cold hard hearts, cold hard floors, blankets, shiny but not soft.
“Why are you taking my child away?” Morena asked the guard.
“He is no longer a child,” the man said.
There are no children in hell.
The mothers cried, they shrieked, they begged to know where their children were until they slipped into nothingness, sedated, sleeping, sleeping, nightmares filled with their children’s cries as they were taken away. Morena slept for three months.
“You have a sponsor and you will be leaving,” they told her. A stranger. An angel sent by God?They met for the first time at the airport. “We’re going to Miami. I will take care of you.” Her name was Lis-Marie.
A Sanctuary with Friends
In Miami, they entered a big room with a bed, pillows, blankets, a table and chairs. A refrigerator, a hot plate. Fresh flowers. A hand lettered sign: Bienvenidos, Morena. Quiet at night. But still no sleep. Her heart aching for her son. Is he being treated well, is he getting enough to eat, is he crying for his mother?
Her new friend raised money and filled out the papers and made phone calls and more phone calls and finally he was on his way to her. She waited at the airport, watching, stretching her neck to catch sight of him so she could believe this was real. Their eyes met and melted. They could not let go of each other after three months of hugs and kisses deferred.
Their new friends in the Quaker place celebrated with cake and ice cream. Some spoke Spanish and some did not but all were joyful.
A New Life
Antonio went to school and made a friend. Morena found some work and made friends. Busy, busy. Doctors, dentists, therapists, lawyers, hearings, ICE visits. Hair cuts, interviews. Shopping for food and new clothes.
Out to dinner one night with her new friends, a train stalled on the tracks close to the car.
“I saw a pregnant woman cut in half by a train,” Morena said quietly. Flashing back. Silence. The train moved on. The Salvadoran restaurant was full of people acting normal. She and Antonio were homesick. They ordered half the menu.
The future is tomorrow only. Antonio leaving for school early to play soccer with his new friends. Morena off to her job washing cars. Thinking beyond tomorrow is too hard, too scary. For now she and Antonio are safe. He does his homework while she lies wrapped up in donated blankets. They are safe for now but around her ankle is the monitor, the weight of dread. Too soon will come her hearing in the ICE court, with the ICE judge, who says legal decisions are not based on sentimentality.