After fleeing political persecution in Venezuela, Branly successfully petitioned an immigration judge to allow him into the US — but his daughter was denied due to a Trump administration policy and was ordered sent back to Mexico.
The father and daughter shared a confused, frantic goodbye outside the courtroom as Branly was led away by a Customs and Border Protection officer.
"Go, Dad, go," his daughter, Branyerly, said before grabbing her passport and a change of clothes from the one bag they had packed. "We're going to appeal this."
It's been nearly three weeks and Branyerly, who turned 18 in August, is still in the Mexican city of Matamoros by herself, separated from her father due to a Trump administration regulation banning asylum to non-Mexicans who entered the US through Mexico after July 16.
On Monday, an attorney is going to try to convince CBP to allow her into the US. CBP did not immediately return a request for comment.
Branly, 47, who declined to use his full name out of fear, and his then-17-year-old daughter applied for asylum at the border on July 27. But because of the so-called transit ban, they were ineligible for asylum.
Instead, an immigration judge gave Branly a lesser form of protection, withholding of removal, which offers no path to permanent legal status but allows him to remain in the US.
His daughter, Branyerly, was a teenager when her family fled Venezuela and was not as politically active or visible as her father, a point the judge made to deny her the protection granted to Branly, an attorney said in a statement.
Unlike asylum, each withholding of removal case must be decided on its own merits using a very high legal standard.
Branly was held at ICE's Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, for eight days and was only able to make one frantic phone call to his wife.
Meanwhile, Branyerly spent six days holed up and fearful in a hotel room, only going out to get food in the mornings. She's now staying with friends.
A State Department advisory for the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which includes cities like Matamoros, warns US citizens about threats to safety when traveling to the area, noting that murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault are common.
"She's a young girl and knowing she's alone in Matamoros is unbearable," Branly told BuzzFeed News, choking back tears. "The whole reason I went back to Venezuela was to get her because her life is worth more than mine and now she's alone in Mexico."
Branly was kidnapped and beaten in December 2018 after refusing to take a job with Venezuela's Maduro administration that would've required him to pressure people to support the president, he told BuzzFeed News. This included forcing people to vote for the ruling party by threatening to withhold food boxes from people living in a country facing food shortages and suffering from hyperinflation.
He refused to take the post and was told he made a mistake. After surviving his kidnapping, he fled to the US on a tourist visa in early 2019 and left his daughter behind with a family, believing she wouldn't be targeted. In June 2019, a group of armed supporters of Maduro, called colectivos, threatened to kill Branyerly if her father did not return.
Branly went back to Venezuela and brought his daughter to Mexico, where they requested asylum at the border on July 27, shortly after the transit ban went into effect.
The pair waited months in Mexico while their US immigration case was reviewed as part of the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy, which has sent back more than 55,000 immigrants and asylum-seekers to cities across the border.
"I just don't understand why the judge gave me withholding and not her if they also threatened to kill her," Branly said.
Jodi Goodwin, an immigration attorney who represents the family, said she received an alarmed phone call from Branly while Trump was offering support for Maduro's opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, during his State of the Union address.
"They just sent this girl back to Matamoros alone," Goodwin told BuzzFeed News.
Goodwin said it was completely unacceptable and unfair that Branly was released into the US but his 18-year-old daughter was sent alone to the streets of Matamoros fearing she will not see her parents again.
"The family hopes for reunification and protection for their daughter from the regime of Maduro, who President Trump called an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes his people,'” Goodwin said in a statement.
In a similar case last year, a Texas immigration judge granted a mother from Venezuela who was attacked for protesting against the Maduro administration the ability to stay in the US under withholding of removal — but not her three children. The decision has panicked immigrant advocates and lawyers who are worried the family will be separated.
CBP ultimately allowed the mother and three children to enter the US, but the kids have to check in with ICE and still have orders of removal from the country.