An 8-year-old Salvadoran girl who reported she was raped by immigrant smugglers in Mexico has been reunited with family in the United States after a tense struggle with authorities who were trying to deport her, an attorney for her grandmother said.
The girl was granted humanitarian parole by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to be able to enter the country legally at the San Ysidro border crossing on Sunday night, said immigration attorney Jessica Dominguez.
The girl's 63-year-old paternal grandmother, who is a retired seamstress and U.S. citizen, is seeking custody of the child and will try to help her obtain a green card, Dominguez said.
While advocates relished the reunion of the family in Los Angeles, the case is a tragic reminder of the perils of paying smugglers to bring family across the border _ a risk many illegal immigrants take in the hopes of seeing their children again.
"Parents should really think twice _ or more than twice _ before they decide to either have an adult come over, a woman by herself, or even a child," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "Things are getting so bad ... you may not see your child again."
In this case, the girl's parents came to the United States illegally when she was two years old, leaving her with her maternal grandparents in El Salvador. Her mother worked in a restaurant; her father in construction, and they sent money home to support her. But the family was threatened by gangs in El Salvador, paternal grandmother Ana Alicia Giron said during a news conference Tuesday in Los Angeles.
The girl's mother decided to pay smugglers to bring the girl to the United States, Dominguez said. She was traveling through Mexico with smugglers over the span of two weeks in April. On a break in the journey, she went to use a bathroom, where she told a woman she had been raped by three men en route from El Salvador to the United States.
Mexican authorities stopped the bus at the following stop and took the girl into protective custody. Mexican immigration authorities were trying to deport the girl to El Salvador, but her relatives feared that smugglers would seek retribution and argued she would be safer in the United States.
"If this child goes back to El Salvador, her life is in danger, because she was brave enough to say, 'he, and he, and he,'" Dominguez said.
When they stopped the bus, Mexican authorities arrested three people who had been traveling with the girl. Two of them were deported to El Salvador. A 17-year-old boy was accused of the rape and is being held in Mexico, state prosecutors said.
Giron and a family friend traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico, in an attempt to retrieve the girl. But authorities questioned how they would be able to legally and safely bring her into the United States, and refused to turn her over, Dominguez said.
Giron said the stress of the trip to a city she had been told was dangerous, the 15-minute-long visits she was permitted with her sobbing granddaughter and her failure to quickly secure her release landed the mother of six in the hospital. Upon her discharge, she protested for two days outside the local government offices in the hopes of winning the girl's release.
"I was desperate after being there so many days," she said in Spanish.
Salvadoran officials asked Mexican officials to turn over the child to her grandmother instead of being repatriated, said Walter Duran, general consul of El Salvador in Los Angeles.
Mexican authorities granted the girl a humanitarian visa last week, paving the way for her departure after three weeks in the government's care. Officials at the regional office of Mexico's immigration agency declined to comment on the case on Monday.
The girl's mother paid $7,000 to have the girl smuggled into the United States, Monica Ayala, a family friend who accompanied Giron to Mexico, said while in Chihuahua.
The Associated Press does not normally identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Chavez contributed to this report from Chihuahua, Mexico.