Bill Melugin, KFOX 14, July 3, 2014
A Ukrainian national is locked up in an Otero County prison after being detained at the Santa Teresa port of entry in southern New Mexico.
Oleksandra Bronova and her American husband, Bryan Price, were trying to enter the United States from Mexico on Friday, but things didn’t go according to plan.
Bronova is from southeast Ukraine in an area where heavy fighting and violence was taking place just blocks away from her apartment. She is a Cambridge graduate, is fluent in five languages and has no criminal history.
Price is an American citizen and former U.S. Marine. He told KFOX14 that after Bronova’s family fled Ukraine he began to feel concerned about her safety, and leased her a house in Juarez, where he lived at the time and where she had a visitor’s permit. He said the two of them could then work on processing her U.S. visa paperwork.
A friend of the couple with border enforcement experience advised them that Bronova would most likely be allowed in the country due to the current wave of Central American immigrants who had been crossing the Texas border.
“He gave us some advice that he felt with her having the status of being married to a U.S. citizen, he felt if we went to the Santa Teresa bridge the following morning, there was a very strong possibility they would grant her entry early,” Price said. “He said worst-case scenario they’ll just send you back.”
The couple, legally married in El Paso County, showed up at the bridge on Friday with their marriage license and a binder full of other documents.
He said border agents immediately pulled the couple into a secondary room.
“They started to ask, ‘Well, why didn’t she finish her documents in the Ukraine?’ And I said, ‘Well, there’s a war in her region. That’s the reason why.’ And they started asking us why she just couldn’t return and I said, ‘Well, there’s still battling going on to this day there,'” Price said. “She was then handcuffed and taken into another room.”
Price said he spoke to the man who was processing them and said if there was a serious issue they would just go back to Juarez.
“He ignored me. About an hour later, he comes in, and gets me and says we’ve decided to detain her,” he said.
Price said the agents took his wife to an El Paso processing facility, which wasn’t unexpected.
However, things changed when he called the next morning.
“They informed me at that point that she had been moved to Otero federal prison facility–Otero unit one. Well, this is where things started to go very bad,” Price said.
Price said he was told El Paso facilities were filled to capacity, which is why Bronova was transferred.
He immediately drove to the Otero County Prison see her, and she greeted him shackled and chained.
“She was already shaken. When she came in the room it was (tears). I mean she was shaking and crying,” Price said.
That was the last time he saw his wife and he was told she was only allowed one visit per week. She also wouldn’t be able to make any phone calls.
The couple’s immigration attorney said she has never seen this type of incident in her career.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a female get taken to Otero, it is a prison; it’s not an ICE detention center and I think we’re starting to see all the repercussions of all these people coming into the country. Things like this–Otero–is the overflow,” said attorney Cynthia Lopez.
The couple’s attorney said Bronova’s case will now get referred to an asylum office in Houston, where they will interview her and decide whether she’ll be able to stay in the U.S. or not.