New York News

Family Reunited as Mother Battles Terminal Cancer

By Allyson Escobar and Tim Harfmann

On the morning of June 25, Benjamin Barragan had an emotional reunion with his two sons at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

His wife, Maria, wasn’t there.

She’s battling stage 4 cancer and has been told that she has only weeks to live. Maria, who lives in Brownsville and has been getting help from a parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Williamsburg, is a
U.S. citizen. She immigrated from Guatemala and was diagnosed with cancer over a decade ago.

María and Benjamin Barragan on their wedding day.

Benjamin, her husband, has been granted temporary entry into the United States so that he can be with his family. Doctors have told Maria that her chemotherapy is no longer working.

“I’m sick. I’m sad. I’m scared,” Maria said. “So much stress for me. I need help.”

Benjamin Barragan had been prevented from re-entering the U.S. He was in Mexico trying to get a green card for the U.S., when officials discovered that he had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally years ago. He’s been stuck in Mexico for almost a year and isn’t eligible for a green card for at least 10 years.

With the help of immigration advocates and from New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who helped expedite the process, Benjamin Barragan has been granted a brief humanitarian/significant public benefit parole from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The parole grants Benjamin entry into the U.S. until mid-July.

At JFK, Benjamin embraced his two sons, Cristian, 13, and Daniel, 10. “It’s really exciting to see his face again, like personally, because I haven’t seen him in a really long time,” Cristian said.

“It’s really sad, and I don’t understand why. That was, like, 20 years ago,” Daniel said, referring to his father’s illegal crossing into the U.S. “He’s our dad. A family can’t really be broken apart.”

In Spanish, Benjamin expressed his initial fear about returning to New York, especially going through security in Mexico.

“They waited for me there, checking the mandatory parole for like 40 minutes, and I was afraid that they would tell me that I had to turn around and go back.”

But he made it to New York.

After embracing his father at the airport, Daniel expressed his excitement. “I haven’t seen him in so long. Since I can see him now, I’m just … proud.”

“I’m happy to be here in New York,” Benjamin said.

Amy Lyons, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, helped with the process of bringing Benjamin back to the U.S. The Barragans and Lyons persisted in their request for a humanitarian return to the country for Benjamin, even after they were turned down twice before.

Lyons and concerned, empathetic parents have sought help from local schools and immigration lawyers/advocates, and from Schumer’s office.

“What we really want for this family is for Benjamin to be able to stay longer than [July]; to be with his boys when and if his wife passes, to help them through the grieving process, and to just have the time that that takes without a deadline,” Lyons said.

Lyons has also volunteered to be a short-term legal guardian for the boys, so that they won’t be forced into foster care if their mom passes away.

“We’re reaching out to immigration lawyers to hopefully find some sort of appeal process; we don’t know what that is right now. This has been the big push, to get him through the humanitarian parole interview and through U.S. customs here at JFK,” she said. “Now he’s here, so we’re focusing all of our energy on extending the parole and finding out how to do that.”

Lyons said immigrant families shouldn’t be separated.

“I just hope that the humanity of the story will reach more people,” Lyons said. “There’s no words. I’ve never seen anything so hopeful and beautiful in my life — this family deserves to be together.”