TIJUANA, Baja California, Mexico – For almost 10 years, Yolanda Varona has watched her children grow up through a computer screen.
Varona arrived in the U.S. from Mexico in 1995 on a tourist visa and set out to make a life for herself, son and daughter. She had a job, a car and even a house – although her tourist visa meant she wasn’t legally allowed to put down roots in the U.S.
Varona and her then-boyfriend, who was a U.S. citizen, were stopped by border authorities in Tecate when returning to the U.S. from a trip to Mexico. Her boyfriend had forgotten his passport, and when authorities ran Varona’s information, they discovered the car was registered in her name, in violation of her visa.
She was deported to Mexico in January 2010. She didn’t get to say goodbye to her children.
Now, Varona spends her time helping to run the Bunker, where everyone calls her “Yoli.” When donations come up short, she sometimes uses her own money to pay for necessities. She’s also the founder of Dreamers’ Moms USA-Tijuana, a support group for deported mothers who have been separated from their children in the United States.
She doesn’t get to see her children often. Her son is a citizen, but her daughter is not, making it difficult for her daughter to return to the U.S. if she leaves the country.
Varona hopes that all mothers separated from their children by deportation can one day be reunited.