According to Quintanilla, the agents indicated that her documents were undergoing verification in Washington D.C. and that once that process was completed, she would be told in January when she’d be released.
“I told my daughters: ‘I’ll be spending Christmas here.’ It was hard to tell them that, because you want to spend the holidays with your family, and I’m all they have,” lamented Quintanilla.
With nothing to do but worry, horrors of the past came back to haunt her.
“The images of the sexual assault I went through came to my mind constantly. At night I would think of what that person did to me… I wish that could be erased, but I don’t think that can ever be erased from your mind,” said Quintanilla.
Despite the fact that she was incarcerated, Quintanilla said she was treated well in jail.
“Where I was there would be up to 90 women in the same place, and everyone slept in their own bunk bed. Just four bathrooms. There are very few showers, where we all have to shower together. It’s really hard to be there. But I kept quiet. I didn’t want to cause any trouble,” she said.
In the midst of her loneliness, however, there was one silver lining that saved her. Quintanilla learned how to make bracelets out of excess grocery bag material, an activity that she and her fellow prisoners would carry out in secret to pass the time and make their stay more bearable.
“That was how we kept our minds occupied. As time went by I realized that it was going to help me, because at first, I didn’t want to do it. Then I saw how it was helping me to sleep,” said Quintanilla.
She still uses her bracelet today. For Quintanilla, it does not represent a negative memory from her past, but rather part of a process which helped her grow.
“I’ve tried to keep moving forward with my life, because I can’t dwell on the past. What I went through wasn’t easy, of course, but I prefer to not keep thinking about it. I prefer to focus on my future, to move forward for my daughters,” she said.
From her experience, Quintanilla says she learned patience, and that is exactly the message she has for women and families going through the same situation. “Everything will happen when it’s supposed to happen, not when you want it to happen. Sometimes we want something, and we want it now. It doesn’t do us any good to lose hope. Be patient. In the end I would say to myself: ‘This won’t be forever, this is temporary,’ and it’s good to think about it like that,” assured Quintanilla, for whom freedom now has a new significance.
Quintanilla was released on Dec. 13.
According to her lawyer, immigration officials indicated that Quintanilla was arrested “due to the changes in priority under the Trump presidency. They are arresting people with deportation orders. Vilma had an old order, despite her U Visa being in process.”
“They evaluated her U Visa application to see if it was really a possibility. When they received a response saying that it could be approved in the future, then they let her go,” explained Baxter.
According to Baxter, under the Trump administration, having a U Visa in process does not necessarily guarantee that a deportation can be avoided.