A Salvadoran mother and daughter were reunited in October, more than four years after they were separated by Border Patrol agents in El Paso. (Image courtesy of Linda Corchado)
By Linda Corchado

Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Alex Mayorkas asked for a private meeting with myself and my client, a mother who was separated from her daughter in 2017 here in El Paso. It took four years to reunite them.

Linda Corchado

Also joining us was Jessica, who first met my client’s daughter at her local church a few weeks after she had been separated from her mother, when she was just 12 years old. 

Jessica quickly embraced her and became more than a friendly face, but a real friend who took it upon herself to make up for our country’s shameful past. When the time came, she played a critical role in their reunification. She helped us remove my client’s daughter from a very difficult situation and ensure her safety as I worked around the clock with the executive director of the DHS Family Reunification Task Force, Michelle Brane, to bring my client home. 

Since their reunification, my client and her daughter have been living with Jessica, where they celebrated her daughter’s birthday and shared their first Thanksgiving together. 

I was touched by Secretary Mayorkas’ desire to meet with us. In 2018, as I helped stop the deportation of separated mothers and ensure their reunification with their children, many Americans reached out to help me. They created Amazon wish lists for my clients and their kids. 

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Linda Corchado’s client, a migrant woman from El Salvador in the blue dress, was separated from her 12-year-old daughter by Border Patrol agents in El Paso in September 2017. They were reunited in October 2021 at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.

As I dropped off one family at an El Paso hotel, just hours after my client’s release from detention and reunification with her children, who had flown overnight from a shelter in Chicago, I helped her children open bag packs, sets of new clothes and toys for their flight the next morning to meet with their father, who was already fighting their case for asylum. They jumped up and down on their hotel bed as my client wiped away bittersweet tears from her eyes. 

I think of this moment because it was also redemptive for me. Throughout those grueling months and Trump’s presidency, I felt a deep ache as my community was weaponized, demonized and even terrorized. 

I was left aghast as the most beautiful parts of my own existence, my duality as a woman from the border, my conviction as an attorney in defense of persecuted persons, was seen as a weakness and even a threat to our country. 

I also felt grief that Americans could not understand the beauty of our work. Fighting for the persecuted is flexing America’s greatest strength as a benevolent, democratic giant. My strength was in our country’s generosity, and by the end of Trump’s presidency, we had none. 

The conviction and fortitude in the task force’s efforts to reunify parents, even under the extremely difficult situation my client had to navigate, is telling of a greater strength that is still underutilized in this administration. 

While the past administration flung to the far right on immigration policy, here on the border, we need more than the center, we need aggressive change to rectify the damage that has been done – to just reach the threshold of normal. 

This year will end the way it started, with “remain in Mexico” in place, with Title 42 in place and with sky high numbers of detained migrants in ICE facilities. 

Just like last year, a horrific crash in a chase by border agents rocked our community, this time on the second anniversary of the Aug. 3 terrorist shooting.

And just like last year, we have no closure or assurances that our community will be any safer at the hands of hyper vigilant immigration officials. 

I’m struck by how often parents doubted if they really would be reunified, if they really could trust our government. After the last five years, I was the blind leading the blind, encouraging them to trust, while my heart imploded a little more each time I couldn’t provide an approximate date for reunification. 

The task force persevered and secured justice for my clients despite the weight of bureaucracy that often makes it elusive. As exigent circumstances surrounded the necessity for reunification, Brane went through the Department of State, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Customs and Border Protection to figure out the best route for reunification. 

I began to doubt our government a little less when a CBP agent stationed at an airport in El Salvador called me to make arrangements for my client’s flight to the United States. 

I’ve survived these tumultuous years on the border by being adaptable. 

True to my nature as a daughter of Mexican field workers, I let America show me a piece of her each day. Sometimes she’s wretched, others she’s merciful. And as a lawyer, I make up for her shortcomings where I can. 

As a new year approaches and while I mark this one with another sense of loss, I hope more of our government will embody the relentless spirit of the task force and the kindness that helped create a miracle –  that one day four years ago, when one little girl came to a church, looking heartbroken and in need of a friend. 

Linda Corchado is director of legal services for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso.

Cover photo: A Salvadoran mother and daughter were reunited in October, more than four years after they were separated by Border Patrol agents in El Paso. (Image courtesy of Linda Corchado)