Cristina Mazariego  ·  Guatemala

A Single Mom’s Journey to Freedom

Interviewed by Lorri Haden
Edited by Kaela Cleary
Produced by Nicole Taylor
A refugee woman arrives at a train station
A refugee woman arrives at a train station.

When immigration took us it wasn’t too far from the “ICE box”. In the La Hielera (we call it La Hielera [the ICE box] because it’s very cold there) the light is on the whole time, and you don’t know what time it is because there aren’t any windows. It’s the first place they take you when you are detained in immigration.

You sleep however you can. I slept while sitting up. They take almost all your clothes and anything that can be used to hurt yourself or others - such as shoelaces. They weren’t very welcoming and didn’t give me any information. You are only allowed out if you need to make a call or if you receive a call.

I got separated from my son Luis. He was 11 and was away from me the whole time. I stayed two days, but I don’t remember too well because you don’t know the time.

Luis and I were reunited when we were let out of La Hielera and were together in detention. We were there for one week. It was like a big house with bunk beds, laundry, and a refrigerator for snacks. Someone came to me and said, “Did you leave your country because something bad happened to you?” I said yes and they told me if I told them my story then they would make a case for me to apply for asylum. So I met with an attorney.

When I eventually got out I was a little scared because I had a grillete (GPS tracker) on my foot for two years. If the tracker goes offline because of a battery issue then a probation office starts to call everyone on your contact list. I slept with it, went to work with it, and showered with it.

One time the charger to my tracker didn’t work and I was so worried because you don’t know if the police will come for you. The GPS was not giving my location correctly and they started calling all of my contacts asking where I was. I had to go last minute to San Antonio so that they could give me another grillete.

I had an immigration attorney and we lost all three of my cases. I felt the judge was racist because he never wanted to do my cases and didn’t give me much of an opportunity.

One of my cases went on appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. This one went really well. The judge was a woman who spoke Spanish. I was very nervous because if I didn’t win this case I would have to return to my country and I didn’t want to return; not because of the community or the security but because I didn’t want to suffer the abuse of my stepfather. I told the judge my name and that the boy with me was my son. It seemed she had already reviewed my case because she said, “You are free, you can stay here. You won your asylum case.”

When she told me that I felt so happy and the first thing I asked was if they could remove the ankle monitor. There were so many people in the room and even though they were strangers they all started to clap and cry tears of happiness.

I’m moving to Washington and don’t feel nervous because I have my papers and green card now. I know I have the right to be there just like any other citizen. I’m moving because my daughter has a heart murmur and her father is there to help me take care of her.

I am originally from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. It has mountains and rivers; it’s a very beautiful place. Its Mayan name is Xelaju, which means 7 deer. For the past seven years, I’ve lived in Austin, Texas and worked in the restaurant industry. Usually, I work two jobs, but I’m only working one currently so I can take care of my seventh-month-old baby, Lindsay.

I was twenty-six when I fled to the US and my son was eleven. My mother, grandmother, and cousins are all still over in Quetzaltenango. I keep in contact with them on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. I haven’t seen my mother in person since I moved here.

My dream for the future is that my son goes to college, my baby stays healthy, and I can give her the best life. My goal is to live every day like it’s my last because you never know what will happen. The most important thing is to spend time with my kids.

I’m grateful because I have good people around me. In the end, I feel thankful to be in this nice country.

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Our team members obtain informed consent from each individual before an interview takes place. Individuals dictate where their stories may be shared and what personal information they wish to keep private. In situations where the individual is at risk and/or wishes to remain anonymous, alias names are used and other identifying information is removed from interviews immediately after they are received by TSOS. We have also committed not to use refugee images or stories for fundraising purposes without explicit permission. Our top priority is to protect and honor the wishes of our interview subjects.

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