A Brazilian woman who was separated from her 9-year-old son for more than a month after they arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border said she was treated like an "animal" in immigration detention, and described having her son taken from her as having her heart ripped out of her body.
The mother spoke two days after she was reunited with her son at Boston's Logan International Airport. As his mother answered questions, the boy leaned his head on her chest before crawling onto her lap and playing with her hair.
The mother, who has been identified only as W.R., said her son had never spent a day away from her before he was taken away from the facility where they were being held on May 30. At the time, she didn't know where he was going or when she would see him again, she said.
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"I felt destroyed, like they took my heart out of me," the mother said in Portuguese, through a translator.
The mother would not provide her full name because she wants to protect her son's privacy and worries about her safety because she fled an abusive husband in Brazil, said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which brought a federal lawsuit on her behalf.
W.R. said in court documents that her husband is a drug dealer who beat her and her son, and said he would kill her if she wouldn't let him use the boy to help him sell drugs.
When the mother and boy arrived at the border, they immediately surrendered to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, her lawyers say. W.R. said while she was held in detention, she was hungry, thirsty, cold and had no privacy.
"I was put in a cage and treated like an animal," she said.
The boy was released shortly after the Lawyers' Committee and other groups argued on behalf the family's behalf in federal court last week. They're living with family in the Boston area while the mother fights her case in immigration court.
W.R. said she was reluctant to speak out but felt she needed to on behalf of the other mothers who remain locked up and apart from their children.
"Regardless of our immigration status, race, or ethnicity, or color of our skin we should be treated as human beings," she said.