NEW YORK: Yeni Gonzalez sobbed as she clutched the lollipop given to her on Tuesday by one of her three children, whom she had not seen since being arrested and separated by United States border police six weeks ago.
The 29-year-old Guatemalan mother drove across the country to be reunited with her kids — aged 10, 8 and 5 — in the facility here where they are being held under President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy towards undocumented migrants.
Only the efforts of hundreds of well-wishers helped her find them in the confusion triggered by the administration’s now-suspended decision to separate children from parents.
The mobilisation to help Gonzalez started eight days earlier when a local journalist, herself a mother of three, heard a lawyer on the radio describing how the family had been detained on May 19 on the border in Arizona.
Julie Schwietert Collazo, a resident of the borough of Queens, home to a large immigrant population, quickly launched a GoFundMe page to raise money to help the distraught mother.
Collazo said she soon had the US$7,500 (RM30,000) needed to bail Gonzalez out of detention in Eloy, Arizona. But there remained the challenge of getting her to her kids 4,000km away here.
The epic cross-country road trip was made possible by volunteer drivers — some of them migrants themselves — who organised the four-day relay from Arizona. A family in Queens offered to put Gonzalez up until her case had been processed.
In the muggy heat, 20 camera crews waited to greet Gonzalez as she arrived at the Cayuga Centres in Harlem, accompanied by her lawyer and Democratic lawmaker Adriano Espaillat, who arrived as a child from the Dominican Republic, and is the first former undocumented migrant to serve in Congress.
An hour and a half later, Gonzalez, a slight woman in jeans and sneakers, emerged from the facility, tears in her eyes.
“I am very happy, my heart is filled with joy because they let me see them,” she said in Spanish, holding up a lollipop her daughter had given her.
“I hope all this will soon be over because all I want is to be with them and never be separated again,” she said in a voice cracking with emotion as she hugged Espaillat and thanked everyone who had helped her.
But her lawyer Jose Xavier Orochena warned that her battle was far from over. She cannot take custody of her children until the authorities have taken her digital fingerprints.
And then there is no guarantee that her demand for asylum will not be rejected, and the whole family be deported. — AFP
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