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After Crossing Four Borders, Migrant Family Faces Two More Critical Battles

Last month, hundreds of children who were attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border – many of them unaccompanied on their journey – were moved to a family detention center south of San Antonio.

The Karnes County Residential Center houses hundreds of immigrants that, as of now, stand little chance of being released from the facility.

In many cases, immigrants have been priced out of their release bonds, with some bonds as high as $25,000. In effect, the detainees have been denied the release, except for one family.

Sara Beltran Rodriguez and her daughter were the first to be released from the facility. And while they’ve traveled thousands of miles and crossed several borders on their journey to Texas, the family has another life-threatening battle to fight.

7-year-old Nayely Beltran doesn't play much. She doesn't even know how to ride a bike. That's because for the last three years she's been in and out of hospitals.

Nayely has a brain tumor, and that was the only reason why Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, allowed her and her mother, Sara Beltran Rodriguez, to be released. Now they’re living here in Austin. Nayely recently had her first appointment with specialists at the Dell Children's Medical Center.

ICE will not say why other immigrants whose claims merit asylum are not being allowed to post bond. But, in a written statement, ICE spokesperson Nina Pruneda did say that "bond decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, based on considerations of risk of flight and public safety."

Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch is the attorney working for free on behalf of Nayely and her mother. 

Credit Joy Diaz/KUT
Immigration attorney Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch provided pro bono counsel to Sara Beltran Rodriguez, securing both her and her daughter's release from a migrant detention facility in Karnes County.

She says, in the past, cases like Nayely’s were a slam-dunk. Nayely's mother was able to prove she was fleeing violence from their native El Salvador.  On top of that, she was able to prove they were fleeing domestic violence and that Nayely has a life-threatening medical condition.

"She clearly qualifies for asylum, under our current asylum laws for protection,” Lincoln-Goldfinch says.

However, it's still unclear whether an immigration judge will grant them their asylum. And that distresses Laura Lichter, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She says ICE and immigration judges are handling these cases in a way she's never seen before.

“Cases now are being assigned no bond – that is the same category we reserve for people who are terrorists, or who have been convicted of serious felonies,” Lichter says.

Or, the few bonds that are being issued are so high that her clients can't pay them. The average bond nation-wide stands at around $5,200, but, right now, immigration judges are issuing bonds for $25,000.

Despite the legal challenges facing them, Sara Beltran Rodriguez says she is a woman of faith and believes it was divine intervention what allowed her and Nayely to cross four borders to get to the U.S.

"I saw many people who were mistreated along the way,” Beltran Rodriguez says. “But, thanks be to God, we weren't."

Sara smiles and says she believes her daughter will be cured and, once she is, she says her goal is to help others.

"We must smile. We will always have problems, but we must smile and never blame God for the things we are going through,” she says. “On the contrary, I'm grateful with Him. I believe there are blessings coming my way."

Still, she is naturally worried about what the future holds for her daughter. Nayely's doctors will have a follow-up appointment with her tomorrow.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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