Stories of Change

Tri and Diossana at ABBA House.

For families returned to Mexico, a future of tough choices

In Choluteca, Honduras, Tri* worked as a refrigeration technician. He and his wife, Diossana*, were raising their three children. They have a 7-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and 11-month-old infant daughter. Even though some of the family’s neighbors began to leave Honduras, “I had a good enough job,” Tri says. “I never imagined that I would leave myself.” Things changed quickly after arguments with their drug-using neighbor (who also rented their house to them) escalated into physical threats. Law enforcement offered no protection. 

The family felt that fleeing was their only option. 

In June, they left. They walked for three days to reach Tenosique, a town on the Mexican side of the border with Guatemala. They rested temporarily at a shelter for migrants before continuing their northward journey by walking, taking the train and riding in tuk-tuks. They traveled north through Mexico, relying on the compassion of Mexicans to help them. People gave them directions, tips and food…especially when they saw the young children. “They showed concern for us, which gave us encouragement,” Tri says.

As they passed through the town of Celaya in Central Mexico, the family stopped at CWS partner ABBA House. It’s a shelter where migrants find a safe place to rest, bathe and eat. Guests at ABBA House can also access psychological and legal counseling, receive medical assistance and get a change of clothing and hygiene supplies. After two days, they continued their journey.

Both parents recall a terrifying incident as they headed north. Like so many migrants, they rode on moving trains. At one point, Tri and his older children got onto the moving train. When he looked back, he saw that Diossana was struggling to get onto the train with their baby in her arms. He came down to help her, but the moving train got away from them–with their two older children still on board. “I felt like dying when I saw the train leave with my children,” Diossana says. Panicked, Tri took the risk of asking the railway authorities for help. He knew he had a small window to get his older children back. They helped him drive to the next train station in a railway company vehicle. Meanwhile, other sympathetic passersby helped Diossana and the baby get a taxi. The family was reunited after about half an hour when the older children’s train pulled into the next station. Both parents consider themselves extremely lucky that they were able to reunite. “It is a miracle that this family is still intact,” says the director of ABBA House.

Eventually, the family made it to Nuevo Laredo, the city across the U.S.-Mexico border from Laredo, Texas. However, they were unable to cross into Laredo. So they hopped from city to city, navigating dangerous border towns while trying to find a spot to cross into the United States and claim asylum. First it was Saltillo, where a man threatened to kidnap them. Then they went to Piedras Negras, and then to Ciudad Juarez. Tri says that he felt like his family was at risk during four different incidents, primarily in Ciudad Juarez. They feel lucky that no harm came to them in the border cities. 

Finally, the family crossed into the United States outside of El Paso, Texas. They were detained by U.S. Border Patrol and filed their claim of credible fear of returning to Honduras. They spent two days inside a detention center, which they refer to only as “the cold place.” Per Trump Administration policy, the family was given an asylum hearing date in December 2019 and were returned to Mexico.

They have little hope of that hearing date happening; they have heard rumors of other asylum seekers having their hearing dates cancelled multiple times. In Mexico, on the other hand, they received humanitarian visas that give them permission to stay for up to a year. Tri also received a unique population registry number, which would allow him to accept employment in Mexico.

Unsure of what to do next, the family made their way back to Celaya and ABBA House, where CWS staff talked to them in early September. Tri and Diossana still had a lot of uncertainty, but they knew that their future isn’t in the United States. They felt that they couldn’t risk going back through the dangers of Ciudad Juarez, especially with their children. “I’d sooner go back to Honduras than return to Juarez,” Tri says. 

Returning to their hometown is not an option, given the threats against them – but they are considering whether to return to Honduras and try to live elsewhere in the country. Tri left his parents and a younger brother behind, so returning to Honduras would mean a reunion. As he started to cry, Tri said that returning to Honduras would feel like he let his parents and his brother down. 

Their other option may be to stay in Mexico. If the family applies for refugee status in Mexico, their asylum claim in the United States would be automatically withdrawn. “We probably should stay for a while in Mexico and work to have some money to go back to Honduras,” Diossana said. ABBA House’s legal advisor told the family that they likely have a solid claim to refugee status in Mexico, and Tri even has a job offer in Celaya. But in its own way, staying in Mexico would also feel like a defeat. “In the U.S. you can work hard for two or three years and have a future,” Tri says. “In Mexico, you just work to survive. If I’m going to do that, I might as well return to Honduras.” 

Until they decide for sure, the family’s future is uncertain. In the meantime, their time in transit is taking a heavy toll. Even though the children seem comfortable and relaxed at ABBA House, Diossana is concerned about how stressful the experience has been. Their older daughter has been complaining of feeling sick, even though the doctor at ABBA House didn’t find anything physically wrong. It may be a physical manifestation of stress. 

For Tri, Diossana and their children, hopes of a safe and happy future seem to be slipping through their fingers. Unfortunately, their situation is becoming more and more common. The Asylum Ban that the Trump Administration has proposed and the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to happen is forcing thousands of families like theirs to choose between an often bleak future in Mexico and returning to countries where they felt so unsafe that they fled. Read the CWS statement on the Asylum Ban here

*Names changed to protect identities.