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Opinion: I Won My Asylum Case, But The Government Still Won't Release Me

Two months after my baby was born, they put me in a cell. I'm still there 10 months later, even after winning my asylum case.

Posted on October 6, 2019, at 12:15 p.m. ET

Ted S. Warren / AP

A detainee waits in a holding area at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Tacoma, Washington.

I survived violence in El Salvador. And I can tell you that immigration detention in the US feels similar to the abuse I fled — I’ve felt violated, traumatized, and destroyed while locked away here.

I was almost done with my asylum case when I was detained — I had even received an employment authorization card and a social security number. I won my asylum case this May, after six months of detention in Yuba County Jail, which has a contract with ICE to imprison immigrants. The same judge that granted me asylum denied my request for a renewed bond hearing and the chance to be released and reunited with my family.

Even if I were granted bond, before I could be released to my family the immigration judge, who heard all of the traumatic events I have lived through, would have made me pay thousands of dollars to ensure that I would come back to immigration court. The government attorney heard countless hours of my testimony explaining why I cannot go back to my country, yet he appealed the immigration judge’s decision and is fighting tooth and nail to keep me detained in a cold cell.

Courtesty Aida Andrade Amaya

Aida Andrade Amaya with her baby in December 2018.

I've now been separated from my family for more than 10 months. The complicated and aggressive immigration laws and policies have prevented me from celebrating my baby’s first birthday, one that is so special and memorable for a mother. Though my baby was born premature, I only spent two months with him before I was detained on my first day back to work, due to false allegations in an Interpol Red Notice made six years after I settled in the Bay Area.

I may not know how to read or write, but I know that what I am living through — what thousands of detained immigrants are living through — is a real injustice. It almost feels like there are two countries: one for everyone else, and one for survivors of violence like me. Ours is a country that humiliates and dehumanizes us through a system where allegations are considered true until proven otherwise.

While I spend valuable time trying to prove these allegations false, so that I may be freed from detention, I am losing precious time that no one will give back to me. It is time that can make me miss my baby taking his first steps, or hear him say “mamá” or “papá.” These are moments no immigration judges will ever fear losing; no government attorney fears being stripped from their children. Yet they’re the ones who have been granted the power to take these moments from me. I even had to wait an extra month for my hearing to be continued because the government attorney chose to not come in to work.

How will the United States give me back that precious time?

Even now, I struggle to find the words to express how devastating and traumatizing it is for the government to intentionally separate families and children. I’ve sat in here for 10 months, thinking that I left a place I called home to seek safety from my abuser and end the cycle of trauma, only to find that my young children are now locked in that same cycle of trauma because of my incarceration in this abusive system. Every day I ask myself: Will my children recognize me when I am released?

But I still hold on to some hope. I recently heard that California plans to ban private detention centers and prisons. I know why this is needed. I only hope we can go further and end ICE detention for immigration cases. We need to stop the cycle of trauma and mental destruction that I live through today. Because we all belong with our families and communities, not in cages. We all deserve help, support, and most importantly: dignity and respect as human beings.


Aida Andrade Amaya is currently in immigration detention in Yuba County Jail in California. This article was dictated to her legal team at Pangea Legal Services, who will file a writ of habeas corpus in federal court to ask for her immediate release.

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