Salvadoran Fleeing Violence Succumbs to Cancer While Awaiting Deportation

María Eugenia Interiano (Photo from family via La Tribuna Hispana)

A Salvadoran woman fleeing gang violence in her native country found out she suffered terminal cancer while in a U.S. immigration detention center. This is the story of how she reunited with her loved ones before dying, and how the Salvadoran community of Long Island helped the family repatriate her remains, as reported in La Tribuna Hispana USA.

She traveled more than 2,000 miles in a journey filled with danger from her native Volcancillo Canton in La Unión Department, El Salvador, to enter the U.S. across the Mexican border. But María Eugenia Interiano was caught by Border Patrol agents, ending her dream of starting anew in the land of Uncle Sam.

After her arrest late last March, Interiano was taken to a Louisiana state prison to await completion of her deportation order. But she began to feel sick, and she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. In view of her precarious health, the immigration authorities contacted some relatives in New York, who took care of her until her death on Nov. 28.

We heard her story from her son Reynaldo, 21, who came from El Salvador in a similar journey, which for now he prefers to forget, to see his mother in Brentwood, Suffolk County, when she was still alive.

“When my brothers and I found out the migra had gotten her, and that she was very sick, we decided that one of us had to make the journey to see her. And when I finally did see her we both wept for joy,” Reynaldo said in an exclusive interview with La Tribuna Hispana USA.

Reynaldo is the third of the four sons Interiano had in El Salvador, and he remembers how much his arrival cheered his mother, who told him that during her stay in the state prison she was not given all the help she needed.

“She complained a lot about how they had treated her; they only gave her sedatives to calm her down, and they never took her testimony or assigned her a lawyer.  Things might have been different had she gotten better care. She was fine when she left El Salvador, but when she started feeling bad they didn’t believe her,” Reynaldo said.

According to Reynaldo, his mother decided to come to the United States because she had witnessed the murder of a friend by the gang MS-13 in her hometown.  Because of that, she was not only getting constant death threats, but on one occasion she was beaten by members of the gang who were always following her around.

“She told us that her life was in danger, so she got in touch with a brother living in Brentwood, and a friend of his. They decided to help her get in the U.S., but the migra caught her when she had crossed the border,” he said.

When Interiano became extremely ill, the authorities asked her if she wanted to be taken to a relative or friends, and she decided to come to New York where she had friends, and not return to El Salvador where she was under death threats.

“She arrived at Islip’s MacArthur Airport and I went out to meet her,” said Ricardo Galera, who had offered to pick her up and take her to her friend Liliam Flores’ home, where she was going to stay. “I was surprised to find no security, just one agent, who asked me if I was there to pick her up. He gave me some papers and her things, and left immediately.”

Later she would be taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffolk County, where she spent nearly a week getting tests and medical analyses. There it was confirmed that she had terminal stage cancer and very little time left to live.

Reynaldo’s eyes fill with tears when he recalls his mother’s last day of life.  “That day we went out early to do some shopping in Liliam’s van. She was happy and she was even making jokes and roaring with laughter. Later that night she felt really sick, we took her to the hospital, and she couldn’t go on any more.”

A Campaign to Repatriate Her to El Salvador

When the Salvadoran Consulate in Long Island was informed of the case, Consul Dagoberto Torres reached out to the community to help Reynaldo in his desire to repatriate his mother’s remains to El Salvador.

“We got in touch with friends who always help us out in these kinds of cases, so that they can assist this young man who has suffered so much,” said Torres. “For our part, we are expediting the completion of personal documentation for Reynaldo, like his ID and passport, so that he can travel legally, as well as the Salvadoran Chancery procedures to enable the shipping of his mother’s coffin to El Salvador. But the boy also needs psychological help for the awful experience he has gone through and that he is still confronting”.

Last weekend, well-known community activist Saúl Linares, accompanied by other volunteers and by Reynaldo himself, distributed collection boxes among Hispanic businesses in Brentwood, Central Islip and Bayshore in Suffolk County, in order to raise money to cover the costs of repatriating Interiano’s coffin.

“Thanks to the support of the whole community, last weekend we succeeded in collecting the money needed to cover these costs,” Linares said.

Grim statistics

Every year, between 150,000 and 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants cross the U.S.-Mexican border to try to find a better life in the United States, paying out thousands of dollars, according to immigrants’ accounts.

On this journey of death, Salvadoran immigrants travel some 2,000 miles to arrive to the border along the southern edge of Texas, risking their lives as many extortionists and criminals have found in the immigrants’ needs a way to make a great deal of money.

In the past year alone, more that 11,000 immigrants from several countries have been kidnapped by organized crime gangs who demand large sums of money to relatives living in the United State in exchange for their freedom, and going as far as murdering their captives if their demands are not met. On the other hand, according to figures from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more than 18,000 Salvadorans were deported from the United States last year.

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