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Mother Separated From Daughter As Central American Migrants Meet Mexican Police

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

NPR has been following thousands of migrants who left their homes in Central America last week in hopes of reaching the United States. The Mexican government has halted their march. Reporter James Fredrick has the story of one Honduran woman who fled a life of desperation only to find her family now in an even more desperate situation.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: A few days ago, I met Saury Vallecilla Ortega. She was waiting to cross into Mexico with hundreds of other migrants that had left Honduras just the week before. This single mother was travelling with her four small children.

SAURY VALLECILLA ORTEGA: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says she just wants an opportunity for her kids - an education, a home and a job so her children never go hungry. She doesn't have that in Honduras. She worked at a factory back home and was often robbed by gangs on payday.

VALLECILLA ORTEGA: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says mothers go out to work and don't know if they'll ever make it back home to their children. Monday afternoon, Vallecilla and her children, alongside hundreds of other migrants, waded across the shallow river from Guatemala into Mexico. Mexico National Guard troops in riot gear lined the banks of the river to stop them. The migrants pushed through, some throwing rocks. Troops responded with tear gas. Chaos ensued.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLASH AMBIENCE)

FREDRICK: Vallecilla and her children snuck past the National Guard. With a few dozen other migrants, they started walking north along a highway in Mexico. She sent me voice messages describing what happened next.

VALLECILLA ORTEGA: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: They were walking in the blistering-hot sun, and another migrant offered to carry her 5-year-old daughter, Andrea. It was a relief for Vallecilla.

VALLECILLA ORTEGA: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: But a few minutes later, police and migration agents descended on the group. The man carrying her daughter ran. Vallecilla watched her other three children grabbed by agents. She chased after the man and her 5-year-old daughter before she, too, was detained by a migration agent. She pleaded with him to let her go to her daughter, but he didn't.

VALLECILLA ORTEGA: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says she has no idea where Andrea is now. Mexican officials have come under fire as images of the clash between migrants and National Guard made the rounds on social media. Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard says Mexico respects migrants' human rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCELO EBRARD: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: He says Mexico has one of the most generous policies towards migrants in the world. He says Central Americans can request asylum in the country and even work, but such disorderly, massive migration attempts will not be tolerated. Mexican migration agents slammed the door shut on more than 1,000 migrants in the past few days and are deporting most of them back to their countries. Vallecilla and her other three children remain in the custody of Mexico's migration agency but still have no word on Andrea.

VALLECILLA ORTEGA: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says, "please don't let my daughter just be another statistic of disappeared children."

VALLECILLA ORTEGA: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: "I feel like I'm going to die."

For NPR News, this is James Fredrick in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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