Salvadoran woman finds refuge in Evanston church, attempts to reunite with daughter


Alison Albelda/The Daily Northwestern

Lake Street Church, 607 Lake St. Ana along with her two sons have found sanctuary in the church, but her daughter is being held in an immigration detention center in Houston.

Julia Esparza, Copy Chief

Ana’s two sons play soccer and go to school in Evanston, but her eldest child, Yesica, has been in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Houston for more than a year.

Ana — whom The Daily is not identifying with her last name for safety reasons — told The Daily in Spanish that she left her home in El Salvador in 2015. After her husband was murdered by members of the violent MS-13 gang in front of their produce shop, Ana and her family decided to seek refuge in the U.S. Ana and her two sons made it to Lake Street Church, a sanctuary church in Evanston located at 607 Lake St., where they have been living for the past two years.

But during the migration, Ana said she was separated from her now-21-year-old daughter, who was forced to return to El Salvador after being stopped at the Mexico-U.S. border. Following months of torment and threats, Yesica attempted to join her mother and brothers once again but was apprehended and placed in the Houston detention center.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Yesica’s appeal to remain in America while her request for asylum is reviewed, which could take several years, Ana said. Yesica is set to be deported Friday, but given her experiences in El Salvador, returning is very dangerous, Ana added.

“The only thing she faces if she goes back is death itself,” Ana said in Spanish.

Seeking asylum

Ana’s family was one of many from Central America — primarily El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — who fled to the U.S. around 2014 to escape violence or poverty in their home countries. The Chicago Tribune reported that while President Donald Trump has been a proponent of restrictive immigration stances, he has promised to crack down on MS-13, singling out the gang for its brutality.

Ana said gang members in El Salvador began to take an interest in Yesica during her third year in college, but Yesica — who is lesbian — ignored their advances, making her a target for harassment. Ana said that until recently, she had never spoken openly about her daughter’s sexuality, but now she is “desperate.”

“In my country, (lesbians) are discriminated against,” Ana said. “Not only are lesbians threatened, they are killed.”

The harassment became so bad that Yesica’s parents walked with her wherever she went. When Yesica’s father told gang members to leave her alone, they threatened him, saying “you only have three days to live,” Ana said.

“Exactly three days later, they killed my husband,” she said.

Ana remained in El Salvador for several months as the threats against her family worsened, before eventually deciding to move her family to the U.S. three years ago.

When they reached the border, Ana was allowed to apply for asylum from within the U.S. for herself and her two sons. Because Yesica was already an adult though, she was apprehended, Ana said.

According to the Tribune, Yesica was coerced into signing a voluntary departure form and was sent back to El Salvador. There her situation worsened: Ana said Yesica was sexually assaulted by her uncle, who threatened to hurt her if she went to the authorities.

Ana said because of this, Yesica decided to come back to the U.S., where she was once again stopped. Because her entrance violated the agreement she signed upon her first entry attempt, Yesica was automatically marked for deportation, Ana said.

A community of support in Evanston

Advocates from Lake Street Church are working alongside Yesica’s attorney to push Illinois state officials to speak out on her behalf. Matthew Nickson, Yesica’s lawyer, said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) asked the Houston ICE field office director Patrick Contreras to release Yesica until her appeal was heard. Now advocates are asking U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to put pressure on Contreras.

“I’m here in Texas for Yesica, but the folks who are really fighting are in Illinois,” Nickson said.

Source: Shanti Elliott
Activists join Ana at U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) office in Chicago. Evanston activists are asking Durbin to push U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Houston to release Ana’s daughter.


Nickson said he was impressed by the amount of support from activists in Evanston.

Shanti Elliott, the Lake Street Church’s immigration justice leader, said she is proud the church has been a sanctuary for Ana and her family, and activists are doing everything they can to get Yesica released from the detention center.

“We have seen legislators push through demands that ICE has actually carried through,” Elliott said.

Elliott said part of why Yesica’s case is so sad is because immigration officers recognized the family’s eligibility for asylum by allowing Ana and her sons to enter but denied her daughter for unclear reasons.

Ana said ICE officials are aware of all the consequences Yesica will face if she returns to El Salvador. She added that all she wants is for the courts to give her daughter a chance.

“It’s not a life if my daughter is not here with me,” Ana said.

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