Salvadoran Mother Reunited with 3-Year-Old Son Says He Shows Signs of Trauma & Aggressive Behavior

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On Wednesday, Democracy Now!'s Laura Gottesdiener sat down with a Salvadoran mother named Belqui Yessenia Castillo Cortez, who reunited with her 3-year-old son Michael last week after they were separated by immigration officials at the border in Texas. Federal documents show the mother and son arrived at the legal port of entry in Rio Grande City on May 28, 2018, to apply for asylum in the United States. Immigration authorities detained them and then separated them, sending Belqui to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas, while her 3-year-old son was flown all the way to New York and held in a facility run by a human services agency called Abbott House. “His behavior is really aggressive,” she says. “He wasn't like this before. … He’s violent, more than anything else.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show looking at the emotional and psychological impact of family separation. On Wednesday, Democracy Now!’s Laura Gottesdiener sat down with a Salvadoran mother named Belqui Yessenia Castillo Cortez. She reunited with her 3-year-old son Michael last week, after they were separated by immigration officials at the border in Texas. Federal documents show the mother and son arrived at the legal port of entry in Rio Grande City on May 28th to apply for asylum in the U.S. Immigration authorities detained them, then separated them, sending Belqui to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas, while her 3-year-old son was flown all the way here to New York and held in a facility run by a human services agency called Abbott House. Laura began by asking Belqui what it was like to be reunited with her son on July 11th.

BELQUI YESSENIA CASTILLO CORTEZ: [translated] Suddenly they called me. And, oh, it was so beautiful, because it had been 41 days without my son, and I felt like I couldn’t any longer. The reunion with my son was something—well, it was emotional, but also sad, because he didn’t react the way his mother—the way I imagined he would have reacted. He just turned and looked at me. He didn’t cry. He just looked into my eyes. He looked at me and never broke his gaze. No, it wasn’t easy. It was beautiful to reunite with him. But to be confronted with this, no. A week has passed, exactly. At the beginning, it was the same. He didn’t seem to love me very much. But now, thank God, it’s changing a bit. Now he knows our family. Now he has remembered, because—well, maybe it’s more like he never forgot. It was just the feelings that he had, because he felt abandoned.

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: And are there any changes in his attitude or his behavior or personality?

BELQUI YESSENIA CASTILLO CORTEZ: [translated] Yes, there are differences. His behavior is really aggressive. He doesn’t listen to me at all. Yes, I am having this problem, because since we arrived, he’s been acting this way. And he wasn’t like this before. I went with him in buses the whole way. And imagine coming from El Salvador to the United States by bus. He would have had to—I would have had to return with a child like this. But, then, he traveled really calmly. I brought him from there to here, and everything was fine, because, in truth, he wasn’t like this before. Because to travel six hours, eight hours, on a bus with a child as he’s acting now, I imagine I would have had to return to my country. But, no, he held out 'til the 28th of May, and now he's acting very differently.

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: What differences do you see? You said he was acting a bit aggressively. How does this manifest?

BELQUI YESSENIA CASTILLO CORTEZ: [translated] Yes. He doesn’t listen. He’s violent, more than anything else, with me. Ever since he was released to me, he doesn’t listen to me anymore. Sometimes he hits me. The day we reunited, the reunion, it was like he felt hurt that I had left him. Something like that. I felt like he had something that he wanted to tell me, but at his age he just couldn’t express it, because he just stayed looking at me with a face, with a gaze, that told me everything.

LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Why did you come here? Why did you decide to come?

BELQUI YESSENIA CASTILLO CORTEZ: [translated] Because I’m in danger in my country. I’m in danger because of the gangs, because of the discrimination, the threats. The same person who raped me in January 2014 is the person who left me pregnant with my child. I was discriminated against in my country for being a lesbian. They beat me, even some of my friends, when I was in 16. And the father, if I can call him that, he raped me for the same reason, for being a lesbian, and with the aim of making me pregnant.

I want a future, I want to begin a future with a person I love, to marry. I also want that. I want to be happy with my child and my family. I also want protection and the support I don’t have in my country. This is why I came, for a happy future, because up until now, it hasn’t. I have never had any freedom, not even with the girlfriends I’ve had, absolutely nothing. It’s as if we’re not there. We’ve always been hidden. It hasn’t been freedom or happiness, not at all.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Belqui Yessenia Castillo Cortez, separated from her 3-year-old boy Michael for 41 days. She just reunited with him. She was speaking with Democracy Now!'s Laura Gottesdiener. The video produced by Anna Barsan and Cinthya Santos. Special thanks to Ali Toxtli. In 3-year-old Michael's discharge papers from Abbott House here in New York, a clinician described the child as having a “laidback personality and a quiet disposition” who interacts “positively and kindly with peers.” But she also wrote, “He has had some difficulty adapting to the program. During admission he would cry continuously and ask for his biological mother, Belqui.”

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