IOWA CITY — Two months after fleeing violence in Honduras, a mother and son who were part of the migrant caravan from Central America arrived on Christmas Day at Iowa City’s Catholic Worker House.
Jackie Torres-Toro, 30, and Isaac Lopez-Torres, 10, walked for more than 50 days through steep mountain passes, forests and cities, holding hands as they crossed the chest-high water of a Guatemalan river, to get to the U.S. border earlier this month. Torres-Toro turned herself and her son in to the U.S. Border Patrol Dec. 16, uttering the name of a woman they’d never met, someone who had promised to help the family.
“Someone in the caravan told me I had to have a name,” Torres-Toro said through an interpreter, Emily Sinnwell.
Sinnwell’s was the name Torres-Toro gave at the border. Through a mutual friend, Sinnwell, co-founder and trustee of the Catholic Worker House, agreed to shelter Torres-Toro and Isaac in Iowa City and help them through the process of applying for asylum.
Politicians in Washington, D.C., disagree about how to handle asylum-seekers, with President Donald Trump’s administration making it more difficult to claim there is a “credible threat” in a person’s home country. The impasse over whether to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border resulted this week in a partial shutdown of the federal government.
Torres-Toro decided to leave Aldea La Jutosa, Honduras, this fall after two of her brothers were extorted by thugs and her father was shot in the head twice, she said through Sinnwell.
“I knew I would get killed if I went back,” she said.
Torres-Toro and Isaac, who shakes hands and says “mucho gusto!” when meeting two journalists, left Honduras with the clothes they were wearing and some identifying documents, the mother said. Isaac fortunately had the medicine he needs to halt seizures, which he’s been having for three years.
The caravan traveled every day, sleeping in new places and hoping locals would be charitable.
“People helped us with food and clothes and what we needed,” Torres-Toro said.
One of the most difficult moments was crossing a river in Guatemala, she said. People held hands and waded across as the water rose to their chests and tugged away some of the paperwork Torres-Toro brought from home.
Isaac said his biggest challenge was the mountainous terrain in Guatemala, which looked like “Una pelicula,” or a movie, but was muddy and steep. He saw snow for the first time and stopped briefly to play, his mother said.
Even as they walked, migrants in the caravan knew there was growing suspicion about their reasons for wanting to come to the United States. President Donald Trump tweeted in November many of the migrants were criminals.
“They were saying we were bad people, delinquents,” Torres-Toro said. “And that’s not true.”
The people Torres-Toro walked with cleaned up after themselves and made a pact to throw out anyone who stole or who touched children inappropriately, she said.
“We did the opposite of what they were saying about us,” she said.
Torres-Toro and Isaac were treated well in the custody of Border Patrol, she said. After processing, they were sent to a shelter while officials communicated with Sinnwell about how to get the mother and son to Iowa City. A friend in San Diego arranged for them to take a bus, which arrived in Iowa Tuesday afternoon, Sinnwell said.
Wearing an electronic ankle bracelet that monitors her location, Torres-Toro will check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Cedar Rapids Jan. 4. She has an asylum hearing Jan. 31 in Omaha, where she’ll have a chance to prove her need to remain in the United States, Sinnwell said.
Meanwhile, volunteers have collected clothing and toiletries for the family and Sinnwell arranged a doctor’s visit for Isaac, who will go to school in Iowa City after winter break. They hope to figure out what is causing the boy’s seizures.
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“I’m thankful I’m in good hands and somebody was here to help me,” Torres-Toro said. “I know God will multiply good things for them.”
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