‘My Complete Coronary heart Is There’

‘My Complete Coronary heart Is There’


Yeni González left her home in rural Guatemala in mid-May. Days later, she crossed the United States border, by night, with her three young children. They were picked up by Border Patrol, she said, and taken to a detention center near Yuma, Ariz.

At 5 one morning, agents woke the children there and took them away.

Ms. González’s children — Deyuin, Jamelin and Lester — are among more than 2,000 young migrants who were separated from their adult relatives under the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.

Despite President Trump’s executive order ending separations and a judge’s order calling on federal authorities to put families back together in no more than 30 days, most families have not been reunited.

This week, Ms. González’s family became the rare exception.

“New York,” she said in Spanish when she spotted the skyline from a car. “My whole heart is there.”

While she was held in detention centers in Arizona, Deyuin, Jamelin and Lester were sent to a shelter in New York, along with more than 300 children. Children separated at the border were scattered across 17 states.

Ms. González cannot yet retrieve her children because of a long list of requirements from the federal government, but she saw them again on Tuesday, after more than five weeks apart.

The relatively swift reunion was the result of Ms. González’s family’s efforts — they contacted a New York immigration lawyer after learning where the children were — and the energetic work of a group of New York-area mothers who heard Ms. González’s story on the radio.

The group launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover her $7,500 bond and organized a volunteer-powered caravan to drive her to New York. (She couldn’t fly because immigration authorities had confiscated her identification.)

We covered the first and last legs of Ms. González’s four-day journey from Arizona to New York, learning, along the way, about what she had been through.

While Ms. González was in detention, her children were placed at Cayuga Centers, the largest of 10 social services agencies in the New York City area where separated children have been assigned. They have been living with a foster family, along with other children.

They spoke to their mother just twice in their time apart. Jamelin, the little girl, told her mother she had to brush her own hair, and that she had chest pains. Suspecting it was pent-up emotion, her mother told her to get it all out — to cry. Jamelin said she was not allowed to cry. Her caretakers scolded her. “They told her if she cried, it would slow down her case,” her mother said.

Ms. González was held in two detention centers in Arizona. At the first, outside Tucson, she was kept in a chilled area she called the “hielera” — or “ice box” — for more than two weeks. She said she was held with dozens of other women, with no beds and only foil emergency blankets for warmth.

With the lights constantly on, the women lost track of the hour, Ms. González said, and would often be startled to learn it was the middle of the day, not the dead of night. “We didn’t even have the right to know the time of day,” she said.

On June 29, Ms. González’s bond was posted in New York City by the woman who had started the crowdfunding campaign, Julie Schwietert Collazo, a writer and a mother of three. Hours later, Ms. González was released and emerged from the sprawling Eloy Detention Center with her lawyer from New York, José Xavier Orochena.

She kept her head down and had tears in her eyes as they spoke to a few journalists who had gathered.

The night she was released, Ms. González met with Janey Pearl Starks, an immigration activist based in Phoenix, who was the first of several hosts and drivers. That night, in Phoenix, Ms. Pearl Starks settled Ms. González into her hotel room.

After weeks in the same clothes, she went to J.C. Penney with her lawyer to buy a few new outfits for the road.

Ms. González had befriended other women at the detention center, she said, many of them mothers whose children were also taken away.

At all hours in the detention center, Ms. González said, you could hear women crying. For comfort, they gathered and sang religious songs. “Quietly,” she said, so as not to attract the guards’ attention.

The day Ms. González was released, the women braided her hair and, defying orders not to touch or embrace, they lined up to hug her goodbye.

“‘Talk, Yeni,’” Ms. González recalls them telling her. “‘Tell everyone what has happened to us here.’”

After setting off from Arizona, Ms. González was handed off between volunteers in several states. With just a backpack, she switched cars every day. Her favorite place on the route, she said, was Chicago, where she marveled at the tall buildings and the lake.

In Pennsylvania, Ms. González sat with Sarah Menkedick on a Pittsburgh porch before Ms. Menkedick’s husband, Jorge Santiago, set out to drive her toward New York. They talked about Ms. González’s work cleaning houses in Guatemala and about their children.

The people she met on the trip wanted to impart the message that there were people in the United States who cared about what had happened to her, Ms. González said. Their meetings often ended with tearful hugs — the human touch Ms. González said she missed while in detention.

With every day on the road, Ms. González opened up a bit more. She sobbed as she recalled being separated from her children.

On Monday, Ms. González arrived in New York City, on a sweltering summer night. At one of two rallies, in Long Island City, Queens, she was embraced by a woman carrying a sign that said, “Yeni, my new American sibling, we are here to welcome you.”

The woman said she was a mother of three from Queens. “I can’t even imagine,” said Mary Jobaida. “We American families are here for her. We are all here for Yeni — and for all those who are still waiting to be reunited with their families, we are finger-crossing for them.”

Finally, on Tuesday morning, Ms. González saw her children. Accompanied by her lawyer, Ms. Pearl Starks, and Representative Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Harlem, she made her way into Cayuga Centers.

More than an hour later, she walked out, holding a blue-and-white lollipop. She had words of thanks for everyone who helped. “Thanks to them, I’m here, free, seeing my children. Thank you to all the people who helped to bring me here from Arizona. Thank you all.”

She added: “Thank you to the City of New York.”

Her daughter, Jamelin, had given her the lollipop, she said.

When Ms. González saw her children, she said, she had fallen to her knees.

Even as they had played that day, there lurked doubts about the long road ahead. Ms. González’s lawyer filed two sponsorship applications, so that either Ms. González or a relative in North Carolina could take custody of the children, but he was told that there was a backlog on fingerprinting, and it might be 60 days before they were released. Meanwhile, in Arizona, representatives attended hearings in immigration court on Ms. González’s behalf, so that she would not be deported for failing to appear.

Annie Correal is a reporter covering New York City for the Metro Desk and the Sunday Metropolitan section. @anniecorreal

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: A Migrant Mother’s Reunion With Her Heart. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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