Drowning of U.S.-bound Honduran mother and son underscores plight of migrants

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras/MATAMOROS, Mexico (Reuters) - When Delia Hernandez, 44, bade farewell on Aug. 1 to Idalia Herrera, 27, and nearly two-year-old Iker Cordova, she dreamed her daughter and grandson were fleeing the arid fields of southern Honduras for a bright new life in the United States, she said.

FILE PHOTO: Martin Hernandez, brother of late Honduran migrant Idalia Yamileth Herrera who drowned with her toddler Iker Gael Cordova while crossing the Rio Bravo to enter illegally into the U.S., holds framed pictures of his sister and nephew at her home in El Limon, Nacaome, Honduras September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

Instead, Herrera and Cordova drowned in recent days in the Rio Grande just shy of Brownsville, Texas, weeks into an anguished wait in the Mexican border city of Matamoros for an asylum hearing with U.S. authorities, migrants there and Herrera’s grandmother said.

They were mourned from a makeshift migrant encampment in Matamoros, to El Limon, 1,600 miles (2,575 km) south, where Herrera had lived among farmers barely eking corn, beans and sorghum from drought-stricken soil.

In June, a photo of a dead Salvadoran father and daughter tangled in the reeds of the Rio Grande drew attention for a while to the plight of U.S.-bound migrants, many fleeing violence and deep poverty in Central America, even with the hard-line immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol did not immediately reply to a request for confirmation that Herrera and her son were sent back to Mexico under a U.S. policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).

A spokeswoman for Honduran deputy foreign minister Nelly Jerez confirmed in a statement that mother and child were returned to Matamoros under the U.S. migrant protection protocols and died crossing the river, although it did not specify a date.

Herrera and her son had been living in or near a tent encampment on the other end of a bridge from Brownsville, Texas where about 1,000 people await dates to appear in a U.S. court. Reuters interviewed or reviewed the MPP documents of more than two dozen people.

Since January, U.S. officials have sent some 42,000 asylum-seekers back to Mexican border cities where they can wait for a U.S. court date for weeks or months.

Last week the policy was put in turmoil when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to enforce a ban on all applications since July from asylum seekers who have passed through a third country, including Mexico.

“They were here in the plaza, and the desperation led them to death,” said Yamali Flores, 33, a Honduran who has been waiting for weeks with her family in a tent in Matamoros for an asylum hearing scheduled for December.

The camp lies just over a sandy bluff from the Rio Grande, a lap swim away from Texas, a U.S. flag fluttering visibly from Mexico.

It was not immediately possible for Reuters to confirm if Herrera and her son gave up on waiting and tried swimming to the United States, or if they drowned while bathing or washing.

The Honduran foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the facts of the deaths.

Some in the camp described to Reuters a sense of deepening anxiety under shifting U.S. immigration policies.

“May God take care of you,” Hernandez said she told her daughter as the young woman set off with her baby in August.

Herrera had hired a smuggler of migrants and had plans to meet her husband Elmer Cordova, who had worked as a barber in a village hut of sticks and mud.

Three months earlier, he had made it to North Carolina with two of their daughters, aged five and seven, fleeing poverty, according to Hernandez.

“They were going to be together,” Hernandez said, in a telephone interview. “Now I don’t know what I’m going to do without my daughter and my dead grandson. May God give me strength to move forward.”

The Foreign Ministry said the bodies, which are in the United States, will be repatriated in about 15 days.

Reporting by Delphine Schrank in Matamoros, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, and Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles, writing by Delphine Schrank; editing by Grant McCool and Stephen Coates