U.S. citizen children left motherless by immigration mix-up

Escobar's children plead for her return.
Escobar’s children plead for her return.

Somewhere in the city of Dallas tonight, four young children will pray that they will someday see their mother again. It has been two months since they have seen her last, and they will likely cry themselves to sleep once again, and wonder if they will ever be reunited.

No sooner had Ralph Isenberg and the staff at ICIE reunited a family from El Salvador (you can read that story right here), that they dove into the case of another El Salvador foreign national in need. Santos Julia Escobar is stuck in El Salvador, thousands of miles from her children, thanks to a broken immigration system that does little to assist foreign nationals, and a failure by an airline to look out for its passengers.

Escobar has lived in the United States for a number of years, and is a single mother with four U.S. citizen children (ages 5, 9, 13, and 16). She lived here legally under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a designation given to foreign nationals because the violence in her country, primarily from drug dealers and gangs, is a direct threat to her safety should stay there. Her problems began when Escobar learned that her mother, who still lived in El Salvador, had suffered a heart attack.

Escobar believed her Temporary Protected Status allowed her to leave the country for short trips, so she took her three youngest children with her on the trip. When she went to DFW Airport in late February to fly to El Salvador, employees with Avianca Airlines failed to inform her that her travel documents would not allow her to reenter the country. She didn’t learn of the problem until she tried to fly back to the United States after a few days with her mother. “Avianca Airlines should have told her that her documents were not valid for a round-trip,” ICIE founder Ralph Isenberg said. “She had purchased a round trip ticket and they had a responsibility to ensure she had the right documents.” Isenberg said Avianca officials did not take responsibility for the mistake and provided little help with her situation.

Avianca Airlines did allow Escobar’s three children (who were U.S. citizens) to return to the U.S., but did not ensure that an adult would meet them in Dallas. Escobar’s 16-year-old daughter, who did not make the trip, had to meet them at the airport.

Escobar’s problems only got worse from there. She was due to meet with officials with U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) in early March to renew her TPS status, but since she was stuck in El Salvador, she missed the appointment and her TPS status lapsed, creating yet another barrier to her reentry into the U.S.

Isenberg said Escobar’s mistake regarding her travel restrictions comes from the fact that government documents issued to foreign nationals are difficult to read and understand. “I’m very familiar with government immigration documents, and even I was confused by the wording on the documents. If I had difficulty, how is a foreign national with limited English skills and education expected to understand it all? And our government provides little help to these folks.”

While Escobar waits in El Salvador, her children are parentless, and are being cared for by their godmother, but it is not an easy situation. Isenberg says the entire situation could be resolved if the government chooses to do the right thing. They are seeking permission for Escobar to reenter the country on humanitarian grounds and re-apply for TPS. “There is a simple solution here. All the government has to do is say yes, and this family can be back together.”