One of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies has separated an 18-year-old from her father after they both fled from Venezuela last summer, hoping to come to the U.S, according to multiple reports. The teen has been left in a part of Mexico the State Department deems too dangerous for travel, while her 47-year-old father pleads for her to be able to join him.
“I already lived one nightmare in Venezuela and another here,” the teen, Branyerly, told the Associated Press.
Dad Branly at times grew emotional discussing their situation.
Near tears, he told BuzzFeed: “She’s a young girl and knowing she’s alone in Matamoros is unbearable. The whole reason I went back to Venezuela was to get her because her life is worth more than mine and now she’s alone in Mexico.”
“What I care about is my daughter,” Branly said to the AP, crying. “How did they do it for me but not my daughter? I don’t understand. I don’t understand.”
It’s the latest headline-making case under President Trump’s push to restrict immigration to the U.S., which was a key part of his presidential campaign and has been one of the largest — and most polarizing — parts of his administration. Trump has described migrants using hyperbolic, divisive language and has said decreasing immigration is a matter of national security, which advocates dispute. He said that before he changed the system, it was “ridiculous.”
The AP reports that earlier this week, Branyerly (who like her father was only identified by her first name given the sensitivity of the situation) was denied a request to join dad Branly in the U.S. after a judge let him enter the country in January.
Branyerly has been living in the Mexican city of Matamoros.
Father and daughter, they say, left Venezuela to avoid violent, politically motivated oppression there, according to the AP and BuzzFeed. Branyerly had refused to take a job supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is opposed by the Trump administration and whose own government is being challenged by opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
BuzzFeed reported that Branly initially left Venezuela in early 2019 without his daughter, believing she would not be targeted once he was gone. But he returned last summer to bring her back with him to the U.S. after he says men threatened to kill her.
They had an immigration hearing in January after applying for asylum last July. However, that same month the Trump administration changed the rules on asylum, blocking non-Mexican migrants from entering the U.S. through the country’s border with Mexico.
An immigration judge decided earlier this month that Branly was eligible for “withholding of removal” protections — but not his daughter.
Citing an attorney, BuzzFeed reported that “[Branyerly] was a teenager when her family fled Venezuela and was not as politically active or visible as her father, a point the judge made to deny her the protection granted to Branly.”
A July 2019 executive order from Trump closed off the U.S.-Mexico border for migrants coming from Central America, forcing them to first seek asylum in Mexico or the other countries they passed through before being eligible to seek asylum in America, according to The New York Times.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protections spokesperson told PEOPLE this week the agency would not discuss individual cases. An attorney for Branly and Branyerly did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Branly told BuzzFeed he originally fled Venezuela after being kidnapped and beaten for not accepting a job with President Maduro’s administration that would’ve forced him to pressure others into voting to support Maduro through aggressive action, such as withholding food supplies.
After he survived his kidnapping, Branly traveled to the U.S. on a tourist visa and left his daughter with family there, believing she wouldn’t be at risk, according to BuzzFeed. However, Branly said, in June men threatened to kill his daughter unless he returned to the country.
After father and daughter were ordered separated, the two shared a “confused, frantic goodbye” as a CBP officer escorted Branly away from his daughter and she told him, “Go, Dad, go,” BuzzFeed reported.
Branyerly has been staying with friends in Matamoros — a city in Mexico which the State Department advises tourists against visiting.
The department tells Americans “do not travel to” Tamaulipas, the Mexican state where Matamoros is located, due to an increased risk for “crime and kidnapping.”
“U.S. government employees may not travel between cities in Tamaulipas using interior Mexican highways and they must observe a curfew between midnight and 6:00 a.m.,” a State Department travel advisory warns.
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