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Honduran family from migrant caravan awaits asylum hearing

Mother, son settle in at Iowa City's Catholic Worker House in meantime

Jaky Torres-Toro looks at her son, Isaac Lopez-Torres, 10, talk about their experiences traveling with a migrant caravan and crossing the border into the United States. The mother and son, seen July 30, are staying at the Catholic Worker House in Iowa City while their asylum claim is being processed. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Jaky Torres-Toro looks at her son, Isaac Lopez-Torres, 10, talk about their experiences traveling with a migrant caravan and crossing the border into the United States. The mother and son, seen July 30, are staying at the Catholic Worker House in Iowa City while their asylum claim is being processed. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Background

A mother and son fleeing violence in Honduras, walking more than 50 days through steep mountain passes, forest and cities as part of a large migrant caravan, arrived on Christmas Day at Iowa City’s Catholic Worker House.

Jaky Torres-Toro, 30, turned herself and her son, Isaac Lopez-Torres, 10, in Dec. 16, 2018, to the U.S. Border Patrol, uttering the name of a woman they’d never met, someone who had promised to help the family.

That woman was Emily Sinnwell, co-founder and trustee of the Catholic Worker House, who learned of the family’s plight from a friend who was photographing the caravan’s progress from Central America.

What’s happened since

Torres-Toro and Isaac have been living at the Catholic Worker House as they wait for their hearing next January over whether they will be granted asylum in the United States.

Torres-Toro had a few early check-ins with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the government hasn’t requested her to appear in recent months.

It’s been a busy seven months for Isaac, who finished fourth grade at Iowa City’s Mark Twain Elementary School and is in summer school to further improve his English skills. The boy, shy at first, soon smiles a toothy grin and chatters about what he’s learning.

“I’m learning new words,” he said through Sinnwell, who interpreted his Spanish. Isaac demonstrated some of the English words and phrases he remembers, including “hello,” “goodbye,” “nice to meet you,” “bathroom,” “brush teeth,” and “look at me.”

He described a recent trip to a farm and the animals he saw, tentatively sounding out “horse,” and “pig” before asking Sinnwell about a word. “¿Como se dice pollo?” he asked, but before she could answer, he remembered and shouted. “Chicken!”

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Torres-Toro, wearing a Hawkeye necklace, said she loves Iowa City. She is proud of all that her son is learning, and she’s grateful for the peaceful community.

She left Aldea La Jutosa, Honduras, last fall after two of her brothers were extorted by criminals and her father was shot twice in the head.

Torres-Toro shared her story with about 150 Catholics at the Davenport Diocese’s Vision 20/20 conference in June, said David Goodner, co-founder of the Iowa City program and a core volunteer. She also has taken an active role in the Catholic Worker House, which provides temporary lodging to women, children and families.

“I do what I can to help,” Torres-Toro said. “When new people come, I want to help them, too.”

Sinnwell since has sponsored two other Hondurans who traveled last year with Torres-Toro and Isaac to the U.S. border.

One of the men helped Isaac through the grueling trip, often encouraging him through injuries or difficult passages, such as at the fast-moving river they crossed in Guatemala.

Torres-Toro is nervous about her immigration hearing in January.

“When I think about it, I get scared,” she said.

Torres-Toro fears if she is sent back to Honduras, she will be targeted by gangs and she’ll have to live apart from Isaac to keep him safe. With an influx of immigrants coming to the U.S. border with Mexico, the United States has made it more difficult in recent years to claim a credible threat that warrants asylum.

“But I have confidence in God that everything will be OK,” she said.

• Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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