'I'm just thankful to be here in America': An asylum-seeker speaks out about narrowly escaping getting separated from his son

  • An asylum-seeker named José spoke with Business Insider about his journey to the United States, and how he had feared being separated from his young son.

  • Like many other migrants, the pair traveled north from Honduras to the US-Mexico border, where Border Patrol arrested them.

  • José says God answered his prayers and kept him with his son, and that he feels welcome in America.

MCALLEN, TEXAS — As José and his young son made their way to the United States last week from their home country of Honduras, they prayed to God that the rumored family separations at the border wouldn't happen to them.

"God, I ask you to keep me with my child, I ask that you keep in mind that I am traveling for safety and that you allow it to continue to be so," José recalled saying.

Fresh from a shower and a hot meal at the Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen, Texas, he sat with his arms clasped around his son.

José, who asked to be identified only by his first name, told Business Insider through a translator that he had been warned in advance it was possible immigration authorities would take his child from him at the border, but he knew there was no other option.

He and his little boy couldn't return to Honduras, so he put the matter in God's hands.

"By the time I arrived, Donald Trump had a change of heart and decided to allow children to continue to stay with their parents, so I was able to stay with my child," José said.

That "change of heart" José spoke of came in the form of an executive order Trump signed last Wednesday, which halted his administration's practice of splitting up families that had illegally crossed the US-Mexico border.

Under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, more than 2,300 children were separated from their parents, funneled into the Health and Human Services' shelter system and flown to states across the country. Meanwhile, their parents remained in immigration detention, and in some cases were deported back to their home countries without their kids.

But José didn't know the ins and outs of the Trump administration's border policy when he and his son fled their country, traveling by bus, truck, and boat for six days to reach Texas.

He only knew that Honduras wasn't safe. He had previously stumbled across opportunities to move to the US, but chose to stay in Honduras until recently, when it became "unbearable."

Three of José's brothers were killed, and he had even received threats from the police, he said. He felt he had no choice but to take his son and go.

'I've felt welcome'

Nathaly Arriola, who works at the Catholic Charities center, said José's story is a common one.

Now that he's in the US, he, like so many other asylum-seekers, will wait potentially years for their cases to wind their way through a backlogged immigration court system.

"A lot of them will have a difficult path forward. But their stories, where they're coming from, and their realities is what I hope will allow them to stay in this country with the protections they deserve, as the law indicates," Arriola said. "The [Trump] administration at the moment, unlike any other administration, has been extremely unfriendly, and frankly does not align with the values that America is all about."

In hindsight, José says he made the right decision to flee. Against all odds, he and his son remain together, and he said they have been treated well by everyone so far.

Even the Border Patrol agents who arrested him were kind and made his son feel safe, he said. They spent three days inside an ice-cold holding facility commonly known by migrants as "hieleras," Spanish for "icebox." They came to the respite center on Sunday.

"I am surprised by the treatment I got in the center, and the treatment I've gotten in this country," he said. "My son has been taken care of, I've felt welcome. At the center, I've been fed, I've been given vitamins and medicine. I'm just thankful to be here in America."

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