Fifty-Six Days of SeparationThe Scars Left Behind by U.S. Migration Policy

A mother and her six-year-old son fled to Texas from the violence in their homeland of Honduras. When they arrived, young Samir was ripped out of his mother’s arms. Two months later, they found each other again, but something had changed.

Meridith Kohut/ DER SPIEGEL

It’s 1 a.m. when Levis Osorio Andino bolts out of a dreamless sleep. A warden is standing next to her bunkbed inside the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas and shaking her arm. “Wake up 494,” she says. “It’s time.”

Levis sleepily packs her bag and stumbles through the neon-lit corridors. It has been 56 days since she last saw her six-year-old son Samir, who used to hang on her more than any of her other children. In early June, they crossed the Rio Grande after weeks spent fleeing their homeland of Honduras, and the Texan border guards immediately pulled her child out of her arms.

Levis’ arrival corresponded with America’s effort early this summer to pursue a zero-tolerance policy to illegal immigration, a policy which called for families to be separated at the border. Now, though, the government is trying to fix the chaos that ensued.

The last thing that Levis had heard about Samir was that he no longer wanted to leave the home in Phoenix, to which he had been taken.

“Surprise,” the warden says and pushes Levis into a windowless room. “Samir just went to the restroom briefly.” She slumps onto a chair, trembling. Then, there he is, standing in the doorway, hand-in-hand with a social worker, his hair close-cropped, the smile frozen on his face showing the gap between his front teeth.

“Samir, my darling,” Levis stammers. “How are you?”

“I don’t know who you are.”

Levis takes a step toward Samir, but he recoils. She tries again and he starts trying to kick her.

“Samir,” she says, “I love you.”

“You aren’t my mother.”

Such is the scene related by Levis as she sits exhausted in front of a plate of rice a couple of hours after her reunion with her son. Born 26 years ago in the Honduran city of El Porvenir, Levis is a pretty woman with almond-shaped eyes. She struggles to find words to describe the nightmare she is living. She keeps having to fight back tears as Samir sits next to her, engrossed in the fantasy world of a smartphone game.

If you ask him how he’s doing, he briefly looks up and says: “I’m made of steel.”

No Moral Compass

The sun is shining onto the cafeteria tables of the Basilica Hotel, a hostel operated by the Catholic Church in Rio Grande Valley. A prison bus dropped Levis and Samir off here in the night, a place located at the very southern edge of the United States, not far from where they landed with their raft two months ago. They are now free, but they don’t know where to go. In October, Levis says, her asylum case will be considered — and at the very least, she won’t be deported before then.

The hostel is normally used by pilgrims, but it has become a transfer station for many of the some 3,000 families that America gradually began reuniting at the end of July. It is a place of humanity in a country that has lost its moral compass.

Nuns hand out donated clothes in the lobby. They help people find their family members and organize bus tickets. They reconnect Levis with her lawyer for the first time in weeks and over the phone, he promises to find her a place to stay, a place to start healing the wounds that this country has inflicted.


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