Six years had passed since Glenda Valdez kissed her goodbye to her baby and left for the United States – six years since she held Emely in her arms.
But here she was, at Texas ’Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, embracing in tears the little girl she had left behind. And it happened only because he had spotted a television photo of Emely, part of a story by The Associated Press about young people working only on the Mexican border.
“I love you very much,” he whispered in Spanish in the ear of his nine-year-old daughter. “My God, thank you.”
It was a fairy tale that ends – for the moment – with a complicated story, which began in Honduras and with an unhappy relationship, according to Valdez, 26 years old.
Emely’s father, he said, was absent and did not provide for them. When Valdez emigrated in search of a better life, the girl was left in the custody of Valdez’s mother. But Emely’s father picked her up.
Valdez said she only had sporadic contact with his daughter – the father preferred that they not talk regularly. Every now and then, Valdez receives a video call; in the end, Emely told him she had a new stepmother who was not kind to her.
Emely told her that her father – seeing that she was unhappy with her life in that house – had decided to send her away, without telling her where. She was cared for by an adult who for several weeks helped her travel to the US-Mexico border.
Around midnight as the day turned around May 13, Border Patrol agents met Emely in La Joya, on the Texas side of the Rio Grande Valley. He had spent six hours brushing with a group of strangers and had lost a shoe in the mud. She sobbed uncontrollably.
“I was thirsty and we had nothing to drink and I didn’t like it and I didn’t know where I was going,” Emely said in Spanish on Sunday.
When officers found her, she said she had lost her mother’s number, and did not know where her mother was staying. Desperate, she gave reporters details she thought could identify her mother: “Her hair is curly, but sometimes she straightens it. And she has a lip ring.”
Her mother was waiting for her, she said. But Valdez said Sunday she had no idea her child had been sent to cross the border.
Valdez was at his home in Austin, looking at a Univision newspaper one afternoon in May, when he saw Emely’s photo in a red hood. She knew right away that she was his daughter. Desperate, she immediately began calling on U.S. authorities, the network and refugee agencies.
“I was like in shock, honestly, because you imagine you’re watching TV and suddenly you see your daughter,” Valdez said. “And then even more to see her crying and everything she said broke my heart, honestly, everything she said here, that she was angry and crying and all that, and seeing her image, barefoot and everything was very difficult for me. »
Emely said she was taken to a group home. But Valdez didn’t know it, and for weeks she said she had only vague answers to her requests for information. Be patient, she was told.
“I was just traumatized, like I spent several days crying, watching his video, watching his photos and crying and crying and crying,” Valdez said.
Last Wednesday, he received a call: Emely was in a government shelter. They will be reunited soon. And then, on Saturday, they told him to meet his daughter at the airport the next day. At the allotted time, she ran to the bottom of the stairs to the busy arrival terminal to hug her daughter.
Emely is part of a large growth of single-traveling children entering the United States from Mexico – nearly 19,000 in March (the highest number on record) and nearly 17,200 in April (the second highest). Almost one in three unaccompanied children appear at the border comes from Honduras, only according to Guatemala.
Guided by federal law and a decades-long judicial agreement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seeks to place unaccompanied children in the “least restrictive” manner possible, which, in the vast majority of cases. cases, it is a parent or close relative who already lives in the United States. It took an average of 35 days to put the children in a house at the end of May; Emely was reunited with her mother 10 days less than that.
Children are usually released with instructions to appear in immigration court, where a judge decides on their asylum applications. Decisions can take years – the judicial system has a backlog of 1.3 million cases.
While Emely awaits her date in court, the girl has moved in with Valdez, her husband and their two daughters, who are excited to meet this new sister whom they had met virtually.