PORTLAND, Oregon — Karla Doniz smiles as she wrangles her wriggly 2-year-old son on her lap on a recent visit to Oregon Catholic Charities offices where she once sat fearing for her future.

A native of Guatemala, Doniz fled to the United States to escape domestic violence from her husband and his associates. The lack of protections for women in her country meant she had no way of evading the violence, the 21-year-old said.

For many weeks, she connected from bus to bus with her infant son, traveling all day and night. She’d heard firsthand of kidnappings and said she was “always worried that someone might take my son.”

“It was terrifying, ” she said through an interpreter in an interview with the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Portland Archdiocese.

Because her baby, Carlos, was so little, “he couldn’t handle it well,” she said. “He was crying all the time, and it was especially hard when we got hungry because we had to wait for the next stop,” she said. “But I was lucky. Good Samaritans gave us food and helped with travel.”

Doniz was detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. “The center was pretty bad, with thin mattresses and everyone crammed into the same room, but it was OK; I wasn’t separated from my son,” she said, looking over at her toddler playing nearby.

When Doniz was released and made it to her aunt’s home in Oregon, she had regular check-ins with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who referred her to Oregon Catholic Charities. On Nov. 29, 2018, Doniz and Carlos were granted asylum, marking the first win for the agency’s Center for Removal Defense.

Doniz smiles when asked how she’s doing. She has a work permit and new job.

She said she’s unsure of how the journey to the United States affected her son, but she knows he’s safer far from the violence.

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