BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — As he made his way north from Honduras last month, Luis had to carry his disabled 9-year-old daughter Dayana for most of the 9-day journey.

Honduran migrant Luis shows on May 10, 2021, how he carried his 9-year-old daughter Dayana, who has spina bifida, most of the journey from Central America. The pair legally crossed on May 9, 2021, into South Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

She weighs about 66 pounds and she was born with spina bifida, which affects her ability to walk and hold herself up. She suffers from convulsions, has a catheter, and other ailments, including fluid in the brain, and is in need of surgery, which is why the family made the decision for Luis and Dayana to try to migrate to the United States.

Twice they attempted to cross at a U.S. port of entry in South Texas but were turned away due to Title 42 restrictions that currently exclude non-essential travelers from entering the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, the former vegetable vendor paid smugglers the last of his money and they boarded a raft on April 29 with two dozen other migrants and floated across the Rio Grande. But just before they got on the boat, he says cartel operatives struck him and lost patience with him when he demanded a life vest for his disabled daughter in case she fell in the river.

“They hit me and pushed me because I was taking too long to put the life vest on her,” he told Border Report on Monday in Brownsville, Texas, after U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted the father and daughter humanitarian parole and they were finally allowed to cross into the U.S. legally on Mother’s Day.

And while he was grateful to finally be legally in the United States, he says the past 12 days have been a “traumatic experience” dictated by the “violent cartel” and punctuated by being rejected three times by the United States while trying to claim asylum.

Luis, a former roadside vegetable vendor from Honduras, speaks with Sidewalk School for Asylum Seekers staffer Ruby Gamez, in the home of the NGO’s co-director Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, far left, on May 10, 2021. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Luis has requested that his and his daughter’s faces and last names not be used in this story. They are trying to get to Houston, but they have no money. As soon as they got to South Texas, Dayana landed in a Brownsville hospital overnight, which was paid by the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, a nongovernmental organization whose founder has taken them into her own Brownsville home and is currently caring for them as they try to find more resources and sponsors.

Border Report met the pair on Monday at Rangel-Samponaro’s home where he relived their journey.

It is a journey that thousands of migrants have embarked on since President Joe Biden took office. That includes 20,888 unaccompanied migrant children who are currently in the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, federal officials said Monday.

Most children and families cross through South Texas, brought over by cartel human smugglers. But as criticism of the Biden administration mounts for letting thousands into the United States, many migrants, like Luis and his daughter, are being turned back, Border Report has learned.

‘She saved our lives’

On April 29, the pair was driven by human traffickers to the riverbanks of the Rio Grande where they crossed, in daylight, with the large group, Luis said.

But after he was slapped around, the life vest was put on hastily and was too tight on Dayana, who struggled to remain upright among the packed group, and she was uncomfortable and had marks on her skin. He said he worried the entire crossing that she would fall in and be unable to swim, Luis said.

Once on U.S. soil, Luis said he carried Dayana up the muddy banks and they walked for 45 minutes until they spotted a Border Patrol agent in South Texas and turned themselves in. They were given water and separated into different groups.

But when he tried to explain Dayana’s condition and explain the medical reasons why he wanted asylum, he said the agent “turned his back on me,” and refused to consider the medical paperwork he had.

Border Report has reached out to Border Patrol officials to request information on how vulnerable populations claim asylum during current Title 42 restrictions. This story will be updated if Border Patrol officials respond to the request.

Luis said they were put in a bus with others and taken to a migrant processing facility in Donna, Texas. It is the same facility that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited on Friday.

Within 90 minutes, the pair was fingerprinted and put in a vehicle and returned back over the river to the dangerous Mexican border town of Reynosa where they joined a growing number of hundreds of expelled migrants.

The area is laced with cartel activity, kidnappings and violence. And Luis described it as a place where “there is fear everywhere. It always exists.”

Over 700 migrant families live in the Plaza de la República downtown square in the Mexican border town of Reynosa, as seen on April 26, 2021, (Courtesy Photo)

It was there that Felicia Rangel-Samponaro found the pair living with hundreds of other migrants in the downtown Plaza de la República, just blocks from the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge in McAllen, Texas.

They were sleeping on one towel. They did not have a tent or a blanket and were out of money when other migrant families pointed the destitute pair out to Rangel-Samponaro as she and her co-director, Victor Cavazos, made their daily trek to this town that is well known to be under cartel control. It is a town so dangerous that they say they are the only American volunteers to go daily to help the migrants in the burgeoning tent encampment.

That morning, Rangel-Samponaro put them up in a hotel and soon after found them an apartment, gave them money for groceries and found them a lawyer to begin asylum claims. They remained in the apartment for 10 days until yesterday they received word that they would be allowed to legally cross into the United States.

Rangel-Samponaro said they had gotten them a lawyer “within the first hour of meeting us” and that made the difference in bolstering their asylum claims and getting them across.

“I don’t have words to explain what she did. She saved our lives. We had nothing. We didn’t have one peso,” Luis said.

But as soon as they arrived in South Texas, Dayana suffered a seizure and urinary infection caused by the untended and dirty catheter. She spent Sunday night in a local Brownsville hospital, paid by donated funds raised by the Sidewalk School. Dayana was released at 2 a.m. and they’re staying at Rangel-Samponaro’s home through this week, at least, she said.

By noon on Monday, Dayana, was singing praises about how “strong” her father is and how he can carry her anywhere. And she seemed unfazed by the incident.

Dayana, 9, of Honduras shows on May 10, 2021, an abrasion on her ankle where her leg braces rubbed during her journey North. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

But Luis said they have no money, one friend in Houston, and he didn’t now how they would get there, or how he would support her. He pulled down her sock to show an abrasion where her leg braces had rubbed the skin off.

A new mission

Rangel-Samponaro has been helping migrants in Matamoros, Mexico, since 2019, but she says Reynosa is far more violent and scary and she is trying to locate several migrants who have been kidnapped.

The Sidewalk School began as a group offering free classes to migrants as they remained in Mexico waiting to claim asylum in the United States. Now, it is more of an emergency organization that helps to get vulnerable families off the streets of Reynosa, into an apartment and get them medical care and legal assistance. “A child can’t learn if they are hungry or don’t have those other issues resolved,” Rangel-Samponaro said.

The past two days, she says their mission seems to have changed even more dramatically and they have started to get phone calls from migrants on the plaza in Reynosa asking for help “because the asylum-seekers know we will house children with disabilities and serious medical conditions,” she said.

Border Report’s visit with Luis was cut short when Rangel-Samponaro got a call from a mother with a daughter with a kidney condition at the plaza who needed urgent care. They loaded up their worn SUV and left to cross over the bridge to Reynosa taking with them 200 care packages filled with V05 shampoo, toothpaste, soap, towels and toys for the migrants there.