San Diego

Asylum Seeker's Children Taken from Her While in Custody

The Trump Administration had announced it would be separating families who entered the U.S. illegally, but the refugee was here legally

An asylum-seeking mother hoping for a better life for her children trekked to the United States only to have them taken from her.

For the past 1 1/2 months, Maria Ester Serrano, 24, has been sitting in an Otay Mesa detention center, thousands of miles away from her children, while her case works its way through the system.

Last month, during a visit to San Diego, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump Administration would be separating families who entered the country illegally.

Serrano, however, was part of the caravan of Central American immigrants. She entered the U.S. through the San Ysidro Port of Entry along with more than 100 others, asking for help.

The practice of separating families has received criticism from Democrats, including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who recently introduced a bill that would prevent this from happening. 

Dressed in what looks like a prison jumpsuit, Serrano's hope for a better life for her and her two young boys has turned into a nightmare.

"It was difficult and painful when I was told I only had 10 minutes to say goodbye to them," she said in Spanish.

Serrano has been at the Otay Mesa Detention Center since May 2. Shortly after, she was told her sons, ages 2 and 7, would be taken to another location.

"I couldn't do anything about it," she said, crying. "It hurts me so much. They were looking at me crying. The oldest one told me, 'I want to be with you. I don't want to leave.'" 

Serrano and her sons escaped from El Salvador, a small Central American country known as one of the most violent countries in the world.

"I was threatened with my life, so I made the decision to leave my country," she said.

In a statement to NBC 7, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said:

"Serrano is being processed for removal and does not qualify to be in the ICE Family Residential Center based on her criminal history in El Salvador. Her children are under the care of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement."

Serrano said they are on the East Coast.

"I was told I had to go through my case inside of the detention center and the kids could not stay here with me," she said.

Her only form of communication with her children is through phone calls. Her children have been asking for her.

"He asked me, 'You're coming later, right? You're not going to leave me alone, right?'" she said. "I told him, 'No, my love. I will be there too.'"

It's a promise Serrano hopes she can keep.

"I have faith in God that everything will turn out OK," she said.

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