Is Torn From Her Arms Based on a True Story?

Lifetime’s ‘Torn From Her Arms’ revolves around Cindy Madrid and her daughter Ximena as they get separated at the U.S. border. Directed by Alan Jonsson Gavica, this heartbreaking movie follows the journeys of Cindy and Ximena as they try to reunite amidst the chaos of the border crisis. ‘Torn From Her Arms’ sees Fátima Molina, Camila Nuñez, Judy Reyes, and Gloria Reuben in pivotal roles.

The Lifetime movie touches upon pertinent issues of racist policies, emotional trauma, immigration crisis, and legal and social justice. Understandably, many wonder if the ordeal of Cindy and Ximena is based on a true story. Let’s jump right in and find out whether ‘Torn From Her Arms’ is rooted in reality or fiction.

Is Torn From Her Arms a True Story?

Yes, ‘Torn From Her Arms’ is based on a true story. The film documents the real-life horrific experience of Cindy Madrid and her then six-year-old daughter Alison Ximena Valencia Madrid at the U.S. border in 2018. Cindy and Ximena were fleeing the gang violence plaguing their home country of El Salvador and, thus, seeking refuge in America. However, at the border, the Border Patrol immediately separated the mother and daughter, keeping in line with the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance policy or The United States family separation policy.

The Zero Tolerance immigration policy intended to discourage unlawful immigration by prosecuting adults illegally crossing the border and separating them from their children in order to deter others from doing the same in the future. The movie’s premise is thus rooted in real-world politics, policies, and problems. ‘Torn From Her Arms’ examines the terrifying ordeal of Cindy and Ximena as they separately spent their days at ill-maintained detention centers. Cindy was placed at the ICE detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas, far away from her daughter. One can hardly imagine the emotional trauma of such an experience.

At the Customs and Border Protection detention facility, Ximena’s gut-wrenching cries for help were recorded. “My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible,” cried Ximena in the recording. She begged for someone to call her aunt, even reciting her phone number. At the end of the audiotape, an official agreed to call her aunt. Ximena was later moved to a shelter operated by the Health and Human Services in Phoenix.

Image Credit: ProPublica

The audio recording reached the hands of the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica through Jennifer Harbury, a civil rights attorney, who received it from an anonymous whistleblower. Upon the publishing of the audiotape, there was immediate outrage across the world. Citizens and politicians alike were forced to confront the real-life ramifications of the cruel and unjust Zero Tolerance Policy. Cindy and Ximena reunited soon after. The policy was officially rescinded in 2021.

The film accurately captures the harrowing experience of Cindy (Molina) and Ximena (Nuñez). It also highlights the work done by real-life bold-hearted individuals who fought for the reunion of the mother-daughter duo, justice, and human rights. This includes Thelma Garcia (Reyes), a Texas immigration lawyer representing Cindy, and Ginger Thompson (Reuben), a Pulitzer Prize-winning senior reporter at ProPublica, who broke the story of the mother and daughter.

“As a mother, as a Latina, as a first-generation American I can just so much identify….it was the closeness of the risk, the danger that people take when they leave their beloved homeland only to be torn from their children,” said Reyes. “I spoke to Thelma Garcia, the actual attorney, who I have the privilege of playing and just to get a hint of not only this [Cindy and Ximena’s] case but all the similar cases that she fights for.”

The Lifetime film, with its realistic detention center sets and generous amounts of Spanish dialogues, strives for accuracy and intends to honestly represent Cindy and Ximena’s traumatic experience. ‘Torn From Her Arms’ thus brings to the public eye the real-life effects of discriminatory and unjust border policies that violate human rights. It honors and immortalizes the true story of Cindy and Ximena, and lauds the hard work of journalists, lawyers, and activists fighting for a better world.

Read More: Best Immigration Movies