MARYSVILLE, Wash. – The 9-year-old came to her third-grade teacher in tears.
Two weeks ago, she learned her mother is being deported. The plane ticket back to Honduras is dated for March 19.
“I fell apart,” said Barbara McKinney, a teacher at Kellogg Marsh Elementary in Marysville. She’s taught the girl for two years and also one of her older sisters.
“I just held Stacey and I sobbed,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do because I knew the family was going to be separated.”
Bernarda Pineda, 33, has lived in the U.S. for 12 years, the past seven in Marysville. She’ll be leaving her three daughters when she returns to Honduras. She fled because the Central American country is politically unstable, impoverished and dangerous, particularly for women. She wants better for her children. Stacey is 9, Sheyla is 11 and Sherly is 14.
The two youngest girls were born here. Pineda brought Sherly with her when she left her home country. The girl was 2 years old, and Pineda carried her as she walked and took buses from Honduras to Mexico.
They spent six months in Chiapas, Mexico, scared and alone, Pineda said. Then there was a week at the southern U.S. border. She remembers carrying Sherly across a river. The toddler cried in fear. From a gas station, Pineda caught a bus to Austin, Texas.
Pineda arrived in the U.S. illegally in 2006. Since then, she obtained a work visa, a driver’s license and a Social Security number. Noncitizens who have permission to work in the U.S. can apply for a number, according to the Social Security Administration. She’s checked in every few months with the Department of Homeland Security. The documents she keeps in a pink folder show where Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers signed off each time. In December 2017, she was told to check in again in April.
Tightening immigration policies and deporting undocumented immigrants are key goals for President Donald Trump’s administration. He’s promised to increase staffing for immigration enforcement, focus on deporting criminals and better secure the country’s borders.
A regional spokesman for ICE on Monday asked the newspaper to submit questions in writing. No information was provided in time for this story.
Last month, Pineda got an unexpected call-in letter from Homeland Security. She was told to report to the Seattle office Feb. 20 “to discuss (her) immigration case.” Pineda speaks some English, but is more comfortable communicating in Spanish. She wasn’t provided with an interpreter, so Sherly, her 14-year-old, translated as needed. Officials reminded Sherly that she, too, isn’t guaranteed a life in the U.S., according to the family.
Pineda has been working with an attorney, but officials denied her formal request to stay longer in the U.S. There was no “urgent humanitarian or significant public benefit reason” to approve it, according to a letter from Marc Moore, acting field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle.
“Although I am sympathetic to the emotional and financial hardships associated with this case, they do not rise to the level of exceptional when compared to other persons and families similarly situated,” he wrote. Pineda shared a copy of the letter with The Daily Herald.
At the Feb. 20 hearing, Pineda agreed to pay for her own ticket back to Honduras so she would be allowed to return to her daughters in Marysville. She was fitted with an electronic monitor on her ankle. The alternative was to be locked up immediately. When McKinney, Stacey’s teacher, found out, she started an online fundraiser and collected donations. She raised more than enough to cover the $496 one-way flight.
Pineda struggles to imagine life without her daughters.
“I’ve never not seen my children,” she said. “I’ve always been with my daughters. It will be so horrible. I brought my daughter from Honduras at 2 years old because I couldn’t be without her.”
The girls are going to live with their father. Also from Honduras, he now lives in Chicago. He has a work visa and is living with his brother in a two-bedroom apartment, according to the family. He’s a good father, but lacks many of the resources needed to provide for three children on short notice, Pineda said.
McKinney is raising money to help him pay for supplies, such as beds. They hope his residency in the U.S. is more secure than Pineda’s, but there’s no guarantee.
“We don’t know what the future holds for any of us,” Pineda said.
McKinney is angry and confused.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand,” McKinney said. “I thought they were going after gangsters and people with a criminal background. But no. They’re going after single moms.”
Pineda knows others, also from Latin America, who have received similar letters. Hers isn’t the only family. Parents are making painful decisions about whether they should bring their U.S.-born children with them or be separated so the kids can remain here.
“It is the community, not just me,” she said.
Pineda doesn’t want to leave her children, but feels it’s more important for them to be safe.
“Honduras is very poor, very dangerous,” she said. “There are murders. Femicide. It’s one of the most dangerous countries in the world.”
Her home country is known for drugs and gangs, and dozens have died in political protests since the 2017 presidential election there. Her parents have a small apartment where she can stay.
McKinney wanted to sponsor Pineda and help her seek U.S. citizenship, but there’s not enough time, she said. It can take years – and legal bills – to go through that process, and they’ve had weeks.
Pineda doesn’t know if she may be allowed to come back to the U.S. through a legal avenue. She wants to try.
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