On Father's Day, in a medium-security prison in New Mexico, a migrant took a piece of paper and a pencil and drew a sketch of his shattered family.
On the left he drew his despondent 19-year-old daughter, handcuffed and wearing shackles on her ankles. On the right, his 14-year-old son, tears streaming down his face.
And between them he drew himself, also shackled and in tears. The man looks devastated, his face tilted downward in sadness and shame.
"Never in our lives had we been separated," he wrote in a note with the drawing, "especially in such an unusual, horrible, inhumane way."
The migrant father and his children came from El Salvador, a country ravaged by violence and crime and one that is especially dangerous to young women. They crossed the border at El Paso, Texas, and sought asylum in the United States.
CNN is identifying him only by his initials, C.M., due to fear of any retaliation he may suffer.
The drawing and letter, obtained by CNN through C.M.'s legal representative and with his consent, is dated Sunday, June 17, 2018. The letter ends, "only an opportunity!"
C.M.'s is one of thousands of asylum requests that have been flooding the US immigration system as migrants flee dangerous conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and other Latin American countries. In the last fiscal year, 30,179 asylum cases were decided and 61% of the applicants were denied.
The scene C.M. drew took place on the Saturday before Father's Day, right before he was taken to the Cibola County Correctional Center west of Albuquerque. CNN has been unable to learn many more details about C.M.'s case -- the whereabouts of his children, for example -- but there are many other fathers like him in custody.
At the Cibola County facility alone, 34 other dads spent their Father's Day apart from their children, according to Denali Wilson of the National Lawyers Guild, a civil rights group that provides legal aid to immigrants.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson told CNN that without revealing C.M.'s identity, there is no way to verify his account of what happened to his family. But C.M.'s drawing and letter offer a window into his despair.
Here's the letter, in full:
"Father's Day. It was the most horrible day of my life, and of my children's lives, when we were separated at immigration. Never in our lives had we been separated, especially in such an unusual, horrible, inhumane way -- by chaining our feet and hands, and my son seeing what they did with his father and sister. But the most horrible part was when we were taken to a federal prison and I saw my beautiful 19-year-old daughter be walked through the prison, where I saw her for the last time. Looking at her while she was being booked, I was in the icebox and saw her walk by. Breaking on the inside, I didn't let it show, I just kept on cheering her on, 'come on, hija, you are strong!' -- that was my expression, but on the inside, my heart was breaking completely and I wanted to die. Soon after I was taken to Cibola in New Mexico. In chains, I felt that I was completely removed. Thinking about my daughter and my son, I felt that couldn't go on anymore. I still haven't seen them, but I trust in God, and that with the help of God and people and organizations it will be possible. We are a father and his children. Only an opportunity."
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