By Dianne Solis and Alfredo Corchado The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — Bety fled into Dallas with her three children as though Satan chased her.
The 28-year-old from Mexico says her husband is a member of the brutal binational criminal organization known as the Zetas. Her 8-year-old son witnessed his father in a balacera, a firefight, at a soccer field, and the child says he wants to kill people, too. Her 10-year-old daughter says her mother also should kill: Aim a gun at her father, she says.
Peace will be the reward, her daughter reasons.
Bety, who asked for anonymity, is one of thousands of Mexicans displaced by Mexico’s drug-related violence. Enough Mexicans are now fleeing that they’ve become the second-largest nationality, after the Chinese, to seek U.S. asylum, according to the United Nations. Over a five-year period, their numbers have tripled in asylum petitions before the courts and federal immigration officials. Overall numbers of apprehensions of Mexicans unlawfully entering the country are at new lows.
Far lower are the chances of Mexicans succeeding in an asylum petition.
“This question of asylum based on Mexican drug violence has come up before, and people in the State Department are leery as it would just open the floodgates,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies security issues.
“My sympathies would be to extend asylum to those caught in the crossfire.”
Felbab-Brown noted that even Iraqis and Afghans working with the U.S. military have had a hard fight getting legal entry into the U.S., though special visas were set aside for them. “It is very tricky to say that asylum should be extended to those who have suffered from violence but not been leaders against it,” she said.
Bety’s Dallas attorney, Fernando Dubove, hopes to get her lawful immigration status fitting the difficult circumstances of her arrival. She has not applied for asylum, but her attorney doesn’t rule that out as an option.
The petite woman with hair streaked blond shows a stack of photos and recounts a stream of spousal abuse and frightening statements from her children. Her central fear is that her children will be tragically warped by the violence they’ve witnessed. In one photo, the father of her three children stands showing off a pistol with a black and bone handle and gold trigger. In another, he shows off a tattoo: Hecho en Mexico.
He claimed the ink was homage to a country he loved. She shot back to him: “Of course, you love your country because Mexico doesn’t know how to punish its wayward sons.”
As she shows the photos, large ugly scars on her wrist tell yet another story. She blocked a blow with that wrist as her husband held a broken bottle aiming to carve her face, she said.
The tension between the couple built over a decade-long relationship that started when he kidnapped her when she was 14, she said. Beatings eventually followed and became more frequent. “He would hit me, and the kids would see it. He would hit me a lot. I would tell him ‘yes’ to anything.”
She decided to cross the Rio Grande illegally with a coyote who charged the family $10,000.
She plotted her escape carefully, she said. Her husband seldom left all three children with her, and Bety suspects he sensed she would flee with all of them.
“He knew my children were my reason for living,” she said.
She deflected suspicions by deriding Dallas so people would never believe she’d seek refuge here – even though she had family here. She told them how she dreamed of opening a beauty or nail salon in her Mexican hometown.
“It was all theater,” she said.
Then the morning dawned when she was alone with all three children. They fled to the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass.
At the Rio Grande last July, her fears grew. A smuggler helped guide her and the children along with five others. Her daughter grew so fatigued another man carried her.
They took off some of their clothes to keep them dry and placed them in a black plastic bag. Then the children were given life jackets and they sat on inner tube. “I put my children in such danger,” she recalled thinking.
It took five minutes to cross the murky green water. They quickly slipped into dry clothes so they’d blend more easily into the streets of Eagle Pass.
But within minutes, la migra, or immigration agents, surrounded them. Bety says she looked up and said, “God, why? I’m trying to get opportunities for my children. I only want my children to be safe.”
One child blurted, “My father is going to kill my mother.”
The agent retorted: “That is not my problem. You need to go to your country and ask for help. This is my country, and I protect it.”
Bety persisted. “I’m not going back. For what, so they can kill me?
Another agent paused – Bety calls him “a good man” – and said, “Hold it.”
The immigration agent asked her about relatives in the U.S., and she told them about an aunt who had a green card, legal permanent residency. Soon, rather than facing an expedited deportation, Bety and her young family were being “paroled” into the U.S. to face removal hearings at a later date.
The agent took the family to a grocery store and bought food for the children, who hadn’t eaten in two days. “He was the closest thing to an angel,” Bety said.
Her adjustment in the Dallas area hasn’t been easy. The new public school routinely asks students to sign “drug-free” pledge cards, a tragic reminder of the demand-and-supply forces fusing the U.S. and Mexico and this family.
Too many words still spill from her children like bullets.
“I hate my father,” said the daughter.
“I just do.
“Why don’t you just kill him so we can live like a family?”
Her son, at times, takes on a different persona, as though he is role-playing.
“Te voy a matar. Te voy a matar con mi pistola.” “I am going to kill you. I am going to kill you with my pistol.”
He liked to shape old cardboard into the form of a pistol.
That son even told her what many Mexican mothers fear when young boys are around the narco-violence: “I want to be one of them. People respect them.”
The other son, who is 7, is protective, telling her he will tell his father, “I’m going to kill you when I grow up because you hurt my mother.”
The daughter already confronted the father directly: “You are Zeta, and you kill people.”
Counselors at a church called New Beginnings and counselors at two Dallas-area public schools have helped her. They give her and the children therapy. School records chart problems with one son, who has spat and hit a teacher.
“The children are very damaged by this,” the mother said.
Bety, who is working as a manicurist, tries to tell the children “el antes no existe” – what happened before doesn’t exist.
When they bring home school projects to their little apartment with its huge, squishy brown couch, the mother joins in the lesson. The white refrigerator in the kitchen has fliers of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King. In their struggles, Bety sees success.
“Ordinary men,” the mother said, “who did extraordinary things because they live in a country that gave them the opportunity.”
Yet the past isn’t far away.
The father tracked his daughter on Facebook and asked for her address, swearing he wouldn’t be abusive again. The little girl told her mother, and Bety put an end to the contact. It has taken the mother months to get her daughter to dress like a child in happy, colorful clothes, rather than in dark long skirts.
Fear gripped Bety again when a Mexican friend told her that her husband had crossed into the United States. That was two months ago, and Bety said she has learned he returned to Mexico.
“I am here because this country makes me safe. That is something my country never gave me. I can be in peace and tranquility here. There, I was always crying.”
One son, in particular, must find peace, too, the mother said.
“I don’t want my son always saying, ‘Le voy a matar.’ “