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Families Divided

Brazilian asylum-seeker released after 11 months in detention and will soon see her grandson

Maria Vandelice de Bastos, who was detained and separated from her disabled grandson after they sought asylum at a port of entry last year, has been released from federal custody. But her ordeal is far from over after an immigration judge dismissed her asylum case.

Protesters call for immigrant families to be kept together at a rally in Austin on Thursday, June 14, 2018.

Families Divided

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EL PASO — A Brazilian woman who was detained and separated from her disabled grandson after they sought asylum at a port of entry last year was released from federal custody Thursday, her attorney confirmed.

Maria Vandelice de Bastos and her grandson Matheus da Silva Bastos first sought refuge in August after she said an off-duty police officer threatened her and her grandson after she went to the press to decry the horrible conditions in Matheus’s school, according to her asylum claim.

Even though she was found to have a credible fear of returning to her home country, she had been detained in El Paso ever since, while her grandson, who has severe epilepsy and autism, was transferred to a facility in Chicago and later a state-run center in Connecticut because he needs constant care.

Vandelice de Bastos was released after being granted humanitarian parole by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and immediately left El Paso to see her grandson, said her attorney, Eduardo Beckett.

“She said the first thing she’s going to do on Saturday is go see him and she’s very excited about that,” Beckett said.

Despite her release, the asylum process for Vandelice de Bastos is far from over. El Paso-based immigration judge William Abbott dismissed her asylum claim and Beckett said they must now figure out whether to ask to judge to reconsider the case or ask the Board of Immigration Appeals for a review.

“Normally we would just [automatically] appeal but in this case, we found more evidence toward the end that wasn’t submitted to the judge,” he said. “But she will be out on bond the whole time the case is pending.”

The Texas Tribune's reporting on the Families Divided project is supported by the Pulitzer Center, which will also help bring discussions on this important topic to schools and universities in Texas and across the United States through its K-12 and Campus Consortium networks.


Asylum-seekers must prove they face persecution in their home country due to their “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Beckett said that because Vandelice de Bastos spoke out against the school and the administration, it could be an act of political expression, and he said the fact that she was threatened by police means they aren’t capable of or willing to protect her.

But the judge ruled that the off-duty officer was acting in a private capacity, not in his official role as a police officer, and dismissed the claim.

It’s still unclear why Vandelice de Bastos and her grandson were detained and then separated. They sought asylum at the port of entry — which the Trump administration has said is the right way to seek asylum — rather than crossing illegally between the ports, and they were separated months before the start of President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated thousands of immigrant families.

Vandelice de Bastos did have a prior removal from the country: Beckett said she visited the U.S. frequently under a valid visa for years until Customs and Border Protection officials stopped her at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in 2007. That’s when Beckett said she admitted working as a babysitter in the underground cash economy, according to her documents in her case file. She was ultimately denied re-entry and signed a notice that she was prohibited from “entering, attempting to enter or being in the United States” for five years. 

It’s also unclear whether Vandelice de Bastos will have sole custody of Matheus once they are reunited in Connecticut because he’s currently being cared for by a state agency, Beckett said. She has legal custody of her grandson through a Brazilian court.

“She’s going to have to go to court, she’s going to have to present evidence and she’s going to have to convince [the court] that’s the best interest of her grandchild," he said.

But at least for now, Beckett said, she’s finally able to go see him. 

“She’s very happy she’s going to be able to do that,” Beckett said.

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