Nicaraguan asylum seekers Meylin Obregon and her ten-year-old son have lived through intense drama since leaving their home in southeastern Nicaragua. They are from Muelle de los Bueyes, a municipality in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean department. Now, after many weeks, their journey may have reached a happy conclusion.
Lazaro Gutierrez, the boy’s father, has dropped his custody petition from Nicaragua. This decision allows the US immigration authorities to speed up the reunification process. This means mother and son will at last be reunited.
Both Meylin and her child are currently in the United States. Their story began in March, when they left Nicaragua overland for the US, with the idea of asking for asylum. However, on the road, they were forced to deal with great dangers. When they attempted to cross illegally into US territory, border officials sent them back to Mexico. There, according to their relatives, they were kidnapped by traffickers.
The child’s uncle in Miami paid the ransom money demanded to free the child. The boy was then abandoned in an area near the Rio Grande in Texas. The border patrol official who rescued him, was moved to record the situation, and the video went viral. In that way, the case of the boy and his mother attracted international attention.
The child became the face of the humanitarian emergency of unaccompanied children on the southern US border. Meanwhile, Meyling remained missing for two weeks. She reemerged in the public eye inside the US and seeking asylum. She told the press that her captors had freed her when her story became a media sensation. “They just told me to get ready to go, that it wasn’t any longer convenient for them to have me there,” Meyling told Univision at the time.
Although both mother and son have been safe and sound in the United States since mid-April, they weren’t allowed to see each other. The Ortega-Murillo regime, with the father’s approval, had requested the boy be returned to Nicaragua. When the mother’s safe entry was confirmed, the regime cancelled their repatriation request. The father, though, continued petitioning for custody.
All that changed last week. Lazaro informed the Spanish language news agency Telemundo that he had changed his mind. He was now willing to let the child remain with his mother.
“We’ve asked the father to rescind in writing his request for custody. That way, we can present it to the Immigration officials. It’s also possible that representatives of the US Embassy in Nicaragua could visit him to confirm this.” These were the declarations of Astrid Montealegre, attorney and president of the Nicaraguan-American Alliance for Human Rights. Montealegre spoke about the case with Confidencial.
Meylin and her son were fleeing Lazaro’s psychological and verbal violence, according to Meylin’s relatives. They affirm that his violence was the cause of her decision to leave for the United States, in an effort to escape her partner’s mistreatment.
Meylin Obregon and her son awaiting permanent reunification and approval of asylum
Meyling and her son are currently in Texas shelters about 20 miles apart. They’ve been able to see each other only three times, during nearly a month in the United States. Meanwhile, the legal representatives have been trying to advance the reunification process and speed up their reunion. “We hope they’ll be able to reunite temporarily in Texas, and fly to Florida the following week,” Attorney Montealegre commented. Meyling’s brother lives in Florida and has been willing to sponsor them.
Along with the request for Meylin and her son to be reunited, the lawyers are also working on their asylum request. The case is still open and being evaluated by immigration authorities to determine whether or not they’ll be allowed to remain in the country. That resolution could take anywhere from two months to two years.
Meylin and her son are anxious to see each other. They hope there won’t be any more legal hurdles around their permanence in the country. “It’s a strong case, that meets all the conditions for being able to ask for asylum in the country. We hope a judge can grant them the opportunity to make a new start here in the United States,” Montealegre stated.
Increase in unaccompanied minors at the border
In the last decade, cases of minors trying to enter the United States have been increasing rapidly. The government of Joe Biden made the decision to stop turning away children who arrive alone. Instead, they’re released into the care of family members already living in the country, while the tribunals study their cases.
On April 8th, the US government announced the highest total of unaccompanied minors ever registered on the southern border. The border patrols intercepted 18,663 minors in March of 2021. This number was far higher than the 11,475 minors registered in May of 2019, and the 10,620 registered in June of 2014. Those two months had been the previous highest totals since recordkeeping began in 2009, according to BBC World.
Attorney Montealegre noted that the unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S. border are generally from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. This case attracted the attention of border officials, because normally Nicaraguan minors don’t arrive at the border unaccompanied. The Customs and Border Protection Office told Confidencial that from October 2020 until March 2021, only 15 unaccompanied Nicaraguan minors had been in their custody.
“In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in children crossing the border alone. However, we Nicaraguans aren’t on the list of countries that are sending their children alone. (…) It isn’t in our culture to send a child to immigrate alone,” said the lawyer.