And walk they did, for days in the southern United States desert with no food or water and no shelter from the searing sun and heat or jackets for the cold nights. Caroline became weak from dehydration, and at one point collapsed in the desert, unable to walk any longer.
“Sophia believed they were going to die. But she spotted and flagged down United States Customs and Border Protection patrol agents,” Roma recounts. “She was so relieved to see them that she wept. The agents gave them cookies and water and were kind to them.”
Sophia and Caroline were processed and ultimately sent to a family detention center in southern Texas, where Roma would call their names in the legal aid clinic at the center to help prepare them for the interview that would determine if they would be able to apply for asylum or be sent home.
“As they sat across from me, with Sophia explaining what had happened to them, I thought of my own family—my children were close in age to Caroline and Maria,” Roma says.
Roma reflects that both she and Sophia were mothers of two children who wanted to keep them safe and healthy and provide them with a good life. Their children were likely learning the same things in school, playing the same games at home, enjoying time with their siblings and extended family.
“We were both seeing our babies learn to walk and their older siblings learn to read, and we were both amazed at how quickly they grew and how fast they learned,” she adds. “But the stark difference between us right then as we sat across the table in the detention facility, was that this was a life that I could continue to live, and theirs was one that they could not.”
When Sophia tells her about Pedro, the kindly neighbor’s son who had agreed to take Sophia in if she made it to the U.S. and was granted permission to pursue asylum, Roma realizes that her home in Washington, D.C. is close to Pedro, thousands of miles away from the Texas detention center. She understands that she might have the opportunity to help Sophia further, and that’s in fact what happens: Sophia does end up being granted permission to pursue asylum and ends up bonding closely with not just Pedro and his family, but with Roma’s family as well.
Not all of the women Roma interviews will have this hopeful outcome, and Sophia’s story is not a fairy tale, Roma cautions readers, noting that she has been left to sit for years waiting for her asylum claim to be processed and not knowing if, when, or how she will reunite with the daughter she left behind.