MS-13 Beat Me Up, Threatened to Kill Me, Then the Government Took Away My Kids

By Jessika L.

I crossed the border into the United States on March 13 in search of safety for myself and my sons, ages 4 and 10. We had fled for our lives from El Salvador, where MS-13 gang members had threatened to kill us. We turned ourselves in to the first Border Patrol officers we saw after crossing into Texas. They took us to a Border Patrol station, where I tried to explain that my sons and I needed protection. I could never have imagined immigration authorities would take my children away from me for seeking asylum.

The immigration officers told me that I was going to be taken to an immigration detention center. They said my sons could not come with me. I was given only five minutes to say goodbye. My babies started crying. It breaks my heart to remember my youngest wail, “Why do I have to leave? Mami, I want to stay with you!” My oldest was confused and did not understand what was happening.

In El Salvador, gang members threatened me and threatened my children, too, saying they would take my 10-year-old son from me. I went to the authorities in El Salvador and requested protection, but they didn’t do anything.

Once, the gang members beat me in front of my children. After that, my older son was terrified that they would kill or kidnap me, and he never wanted to leave my side, even to go to the bathroom. He didn’t want to go to school, because he was afraid he would not find me when he came home. My 4-year-old slept in bed with me, and my 10-year-old slept in his own bed in the same room.

I feared not just for my safety but also for my children, so I did what I believe any responsible parent would do — tried to get them to safety. I have family in the United States, and they said they were willing to take us in.

Then, immigration authorities made my sons’ worst fears come true. They left them without their mother.

After my sons were taken away, I was transferred to the Laredo Detention Center. I called the Office of Refugee Resettlement to find out what happened to my children, but they just told me that my boys were in custody in San Antonio. I couldn’t talk to my sons to see how they were doing or to tell them I love them.  At one point, I learned that my sons were separated and placed in two different foster homes for a time. I can’t begin to say how desperate I felt knowing that they were alone, among strangers.

Finally, on May 8, after nearly two months in government custody, my children were released to my relatives on the East Coast. I am grateful that my boys were with family, and I could finally talk to them on the telephone. But my sons had no prior relationship with these relatives, and I knew they needed their mother.

Before we were separated, I had never spent a night away from my children. I asked to be released from immigration detention so I could be with them, but when I had my immigration hearing, the government alleged that I had an affiliation with a gang. I tried to explain that I was in fact a victim of the gang. As I said in my sworn affidavit, “I have never been a part of or aided the gangs in El Salvador.”

But the judge set a bond of $12,500.

Thankfully, people from all around the country donated money for my bond through a fund set up by the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services in Texas. I was reunited with my sons on June 7, after we had been separated for almost three months.

I was so relieved and happy to hold my sons again. But I still think about other mothers who are sick with worry about their own children who were taken from them. I pray that people put themselves in my shoes and theirs, and think about how difficult it must be for mothers to be away from their children.

Jessika L. is part of a class-action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which assisted her in writing this op-ed. She is using only part of her name in order to protect other family members.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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        1. Jim Hoch

          The situation is real, much of what comes from the ACLU is fake. If it were translated they could say that, not “assisted her in writing” whatever that means. 

          1. David Greenwald

            Again – you stated the “whole thing is fake” – when the account was filed as a lawsuit backed by declarations written under penalty of perjury in a court of law. So let’s be very clear what you are saying here. When you say the “whole thing is fake,” what is it that you mean?

  1. Howard P

    Does have a “whiff” of Janet Cooke’s story about “Jimmy”… what it strikes me as an amalgam of many stories (with a mixture of true facts), from many women, woven together to ‘make a point’…

    There is no indication that this account is part of any “filings”, submitted ‘under penalty of perjury’ to any court…

    I won’t denounce the account as “fake”, nor will I accept it as ‘Gospel truth’… I am indeed, ‘skeptical’…

    There are elements of it that sound “real”, but the MS 13 thing (a group that originated in LA, that POTUS likes to use as an example of “who are coming over our borders”), ‘smells funny’… several levels… MS 13 is apparently known to “smuggle” folk into the US… as I say, am skeptical… bringing MS 13 into the narrative could well be a political ploy… or, might be true…

      1. Jim Hoch

        It would not be at all surprising if large numbers of those “fleeing gang violence” were in fact gang associated themselves and on the losing end of some dispute.


        1. Jim Hoch

          “I think you’re jumping to conclusions” 

          Possibly the correct answer is that advocacy groups give the seekers a couple of options of claims that may provide them with asylum and they pick one.

          I have done it myself.

          1. David Greenwald

            Because it well done and interesting and does a good job of tracing the origins of the gang.

        1. Howard P

          Well, Jim, the “Gangland” episodes are indisputable sources for facts… unlike “fake news” like the Washington Post…

          Yeah, right…

        2. Jim Hoch

          Howard, I don’t have cable so watching TV is out. I did look at the show on Wikipedia and there is at least 3 episodes listed on MS-13.

          I’m not sure why we are even having this discussion. If you have a community of people who were molested as children you will have a lot of child molestation as the molested are much more likely to molest in the future.

          People who were trafficked as young adults are much more likely to be traffickers than those that were not.

          Here in California we have seen people who were fleeing South Central LA gangs like Grape Street and the Rolling 60s move to Pomona and the Moreno Valley. The result has been the emergence of LA linked gangs like Trey 57 in Pomona.

          If we accept people fleeing gangs in Central America we will have more Central American here. I don’t believe there is any honest way to dispute that.  Someone may say that it’s an acceptable trade-off but to deny it is just dishonest.

  2. Eric Gelber

    Or the whole thing is fake, which is more likely …

    Which parts of this op-ed ring untrue to you? What reason do you have, other than the unsubstantiated assertion that “much of what comes from the ACLU is fake,” for doubting the authenticity and veracity of this account? Responding “fake news” to any account that one doesn’t want to believe may be a convincing argument in some circles; but, it’s really nothing more than a refusal to examine or accept facts that are inconsistent with one’s preconceived views.


    1. Jim Hoch


      The format is dishonest. It’s neither a third party account nor is it a translation. It’s ghostwritten or “assisted her in writing” whatever that means. 

      My original quote ” given what we see published from the ACLU advocacy groups”. I would draw a contrast between what comes form the ACLU directly and what comes from the various “ACLU advocacy groups” which have no objectivity and the low levels of honesty that mark advocacy groups across the political spectrum.

      1. Eric Gelber

        The format is dishonest.

        No it is not. You may not understand what is meant by “assisted her in writing” but attorneys often assist in drafting legal and other documents for their clients and others, including expert witnesses. It ensures that the declarant’s testimony or related facts are presented clearly and concisely. Particularly when information is being related by a non-English speaker or a person with an intellectual disability, for example, that is a vital part of the attorney’s role. Working with a class member to relate his or her experience by assisting in writing and/or translating an op-ed, a declaration, etc. is an honest and appropriate role for an attorney or advocate.

        1. Jim Hoch

          “Thankfully, for those who would be your clients, it’s a good thing you’re not a lawyer.”

          Don’t be too happy, there are plenty of terrible lawyers to go around without me joining the ranks.

    1. H Jackson

      I’m not sure what you have in mind, but this is far from summer camp situations that I’m familiar with:

      — Olivia Caceres was separated from her 1-year-old son in November at a legal point of entry. The boy’s father, who was seeking asylum, remains detained, Caceres said. It took three months for Caceres to get her son back from government custody. According to her testimony, she said that after reuniting with her toddler, “he continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go. When I took off his clothes he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.” source

      1. Jeff M

        Well-coached in her story that likely is not true or exaggerated for maximum left political benefit.  There have been a lot of flat out lies from the political operatives of the left and the left media about all of this (children kept in charges, etc.)… including the ignoring of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied kids that the Obama administration processed the same way.

        Only 10% of the kids are handed off to someone that is not a relative because they have no relatives.  If they are handed off to a non-relative, it is a licensed foster care facility that is regulated to the max.  If the kid was uncared for it was likely because the mother or father gave the officials the name and address of a relative that did not take care of him well enough… or she is lying.

        This is the process:

        Minors who are apprehended crossing the border are usually are sent to a “central processing center” in McAllen. The facility can hold up to 1,000 kids, according to the McAllen Monitor. Children are held at these centers for no more than three days, and then they’re transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which places them in a temporary shelter and then, eventually, in homes or licensed foster-care facilities.

        But the president is fixing this with Ft. Bliss building facilities that can contain both the parents and their children until they are sent home (80%) or given asylum (20%).

        1. H Jackson

          Jeff M.: “Well-coached in her story that likely is not true or exaggerated for maximum left political benefit.”

          What gives you clues that the story is false or exaggerated?

          Just gut feeling?

        2. Jeff M

          When I took off his clothes he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.

          Frankly, I am really tired of the tired attempts to paint everything about the Trump administration as evil and immoral.   And it is really unbelievably stupid that anyone would believe a meme that the same government employees that were defended as heroes under the Obama admin have become the devil incarnate under Trump.  He beats children refused to feed them or wash them and ensures that they are terrified so they cry and clutch their mother’s leg when reunited.

          It is actually pretty silly to see all these smart people cling to these stories… I think because it fullfills their need to validate their malady of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

          1. David Greenwald

            “Frankly, I am really tired of the tired attempts to paint everything about the Trump administration as evil and immoral. ”

            You almost made me spit out my coffee.

        3. H Jackson

          Jeff M.: ” And it is really unbelievably stupid that anyone would believe a meme that the same government employees that were defended as heroes under the Obama admin…”

          Were they?

          At the outset Obama had a harsher immigration detention policy than GW Bush.  The only notable thing that he did that gained some favor for immigration activists was DACA; that’s pretty much it.  Trump has made it even harsher, and he is candid and proud of it.


          Jeff M.: “It is actually pretty silly to see all these smart people cling to these stories…”

          And how will you know if any are actually true?

    2. Eric Gelber

      I guess me separating myself from my kids while they attended summer camp was hateful and harmful to my children.

      Jeff – Your equating the situations evinces a level of ignorance and callousness that is shocking.

  3. Tia Will

    I guess me separating myself from my kids while they attended summer camp was hateful and harmful to my children.”
    I have known a number of children that had to be fetched earlier than anticipated from summer camp because they could not tolerate parental separation. Even at college I knew several 18 year olds who had to go home early because they were not psychologically prepared for separation from their families either.

    Making light of the trauma associated with familial separation is frankly despicable. Especially  coming from a poster who has frequently posted about the importance of an intact nuclear  family to development of good character in children.

    1. Jeff M

      Good parenting often mean coaching your children through difficult times, and maybe not exploiting them for fake asylum claims so you can make more money and get more free stuff from another country.

      Too bad the left has never made this a consistent howl given the decades of practice separating children from their parents – especially the children’s fathers – having pushed a leftist anti-industrialism agenda, a leftist global new world order agenda and a leftist pro-crappy status quo education system agenda.

      Never let a good (or intellectually dishonest) crisis go to waste!

      Without politically beneficial double standards, I think the left would have no standards.

  4. Ken A

    Jeff needs to learn that “EVERYTHING about the Trump administration as evil and immoral”…

    When other presidents “had kids behind fences” Trump is “putting kids in cages” (since we are now calling the fenced areas other presidents had the kids behind “cages”).

    Trump is also racist since he said bad things about MS 13 a group made up of POC (only other POC can say bad things about other POC or MS13).

    And lastly Jeff needs to learn that 100% of the people crossing the border are coming for asylum (it is silly to think even one person would want to earn $11/hour minimum wage in California when they could be helping to make their home country better and making $0.59/hour in Mexico).

        1. Jim Hoch

          True but maybe not the way you mean If we look the Diversity Visa application pool, link below, we see total applicants by country for FY2018:


          Ukraine 1,450,487

          Uzbekistan 2,114,446

          Sierra Leone 1,011,725

          Nepal 1,187,350

          Ghana 2,227,530

          Care to speculate how many people of the above nationalities are given relief through DACA?

          While you are at it maybe you should google “Disparate Impact”.

  5. Joel Shandling

    The fact that someone is having a bad time living in their native country is not sufficient justification to let them enter illegally and receive government support. A majority of the world could improve their lifestyle by coming to the USA and getting welfare. The fact that there is any argument about this at all shows how bad a shape we are in politically. Immigration policy matters because citizenship matters, and by citizenship I do not mean the bare minimum of voting and paying taxes, I mean what you _contribute_ to the nation beyond your beautiful smile and your body odor.

    Are you making this a better place to live? Creating benefit? Adding to the sense of community? Or are you a “project”, a net drag, consuming resources? Destroying community cohesiveness? Taking far more than you give back? There are only so many of those you can accept as immigrants before the expenditures from the bank of community and citizenship exceed the deposits. We are reaching a point where it’s going to far. We are losing a cohesive functioning society and putting in its place an atomized society of identity groups living in close proximity competing for dwindling resources.

    Immigration is important. We need to make real decisions and policy to manage it. Letting in anyone who can sneak across the border is not a sustainable answer.


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