Zoila Figueroa’s 2012 attempt to cross the border was not her first.
She had been living in the U.S. without documentation for years when she decided to visit her native El Salvador. She brought along her severely autistic son, in hopes that a season with family would help him.
But once there, the rampant crime in the country made her rethink her decision.
The pregnant mother of three decided to put her son, who is a U.S. citizen, on a plane back to New York and then paid two coyotes $1,500 to get her across the border.
“They were threatening me with a gun, pointed right to my stomach,” Figueroa said of the men who abducted her in March of last year.
“They said if my husband didn’t pay ransom they were going to take out my baby. They were going to take out the baby alive and then they were going to kill me.”
While they ultimately freed her unharmed, it was not until after her husband paid a $3,990 ransom.
Immediately after the incident, Figueroa contacted the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.
Putting together as many details as possible, Figueroa provided investigators with the names and descriptions of her captors, whom she overhead calling each other “El Jefe” and “Juan.”
“They even showed me a cell phone photo of the place, of the trailer, and I said, ‘Yes, that’s the place,’” Figueroa said.
But despite the details Figueroa was able to recall, Hidalgo County eventually closed the case, unsolved.
A year after reuniting with her family and husband in Long Island, New York, Figueroa is still dealing with mental scars and an uncertain future.
“Since I’ve been back from there, I haven’t done anything but cry. I shut myself up inside and am depressed,” Figueroa said.
Her lawyer, Bryan Johnson, believes Figueroa should qualify for the “U” visa, which would allow her to stay in the country with her husband and children. He says she seems like the textbook candidate for it, having cooperated with authorities in Texas to the best of her abilities.
Designed to give asylum to undocumented immigrants who have been victims of mentally or physically abusive crimes, a “U” visa would give Figueroa a chance to become a legal resident.
However, Figueroa is still in danger of being deported and must check in with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on Thursday.
“This is a perfect example of how someone is not being protected even though they need it,” her lawyer told the Daily News.
“I feel like I’m being harassed, that they are insulting me all the time,” added Figueroa.
“I feel really, really bad.”