When Wanda Villanueva got on her flight, she wasn’t expecting to hear a woman’s unbelievably upsetting immigration story
On Friday night, Wanda Villanueva was headed home to North Carolina from California when she started chatting with the tired, shy mom seated next to her. As the woman, Glendy, told her story, Villanueva was shocked by what she heard: a tale of horror about how the young mom and her family were treated at an immigrant detention center.
Since the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal immigrants was implemented last month, human rights organizations and politicians around the country have spoken up about the legal and moral implications of separating parents from their children during the detention process. At the same time, shocking numbers have been released about the number of families that have been torn apart after trying to find asylum in the United States — in some cases, of parents being deported while their minor kids are left behind.
However, it’s sometimes hard to put human faces on these stories, or to feel the impact of just how chilling and unjust this new immigration policy is — until someone speaks up and shares the story of an individual.
Villanueva shared Glendy’s immigration detention story on Facebook, and it quickly went viral as readers spread the details of what it’s really like today to be brought to a detention center.
Glendy, her husband, and their seven-year-old son left Guatemala after losing their home in a mudslide and were looking for a better life in the United States. After they had crossed the border, however, they were picked up by authorities and brought to an immigration detention center, where her husband was taken away. She told Villanueva of the horribly sad things she witnessed while staying there. “One boy stood by a window looking for his father for 4 days. She described how swollen his eyes were from days of crying and lack of sleep. She doesn’t know where her husband was taken and with tears in her eyes she said she felt dead inside.”
Glendy and her young son were in the center for almost a week, sleeping on the floor without enough blankets to keep warm as the AC was always blasting. Her son cried for his father for days, wetting his pants out of trauma — and Glendy wasn’t allowed to clean him up. They were surrounded by other immigrants, many of whom were just seeking asylum, including pregnant women sleeping on the hard floor as well as young children who had been separated from their parents.
The mother and child were on a flight to the East Coast to be with family while Glendy awaited her deportation trial — her brother-in-law, who she had never met, paid for the plane tickets. She still had no idea where her husband was, when she will see him again, or what the fate of her family would be. She was wearing an ankle monitor, hadn’t showered for days, and hadn’t eaten since they left the center that morning — it was 10pm at this point.
In the airport, after the cross-country flight, Villanueva bought the pair breakfast and walked them to the gate for their final leg of travel.
“The little boy had been given a clean pair of pants from a church organization,” she wrote in her post. “They were probably 4 inches above his skinny ankles and his sneakers were too big for his little feet. His eyes darted back and forth as we walked through the busy airport, trying to understand this new world, this strange language and what was happening to his family. He looked so very sad and frightened.”
“Once we reached the gate, I hugged her tight and told her to try to stay positive, pray hard, and thank God she was not separated from her little boy,” she wrote. “I hope one day she will remember that during a horrible time in her life, there was at least person who truly cared.”
After it was all over, Villanueva says she cried in long-term parking. But she didn’t stop there. Later that day, she wrote Glendy’s story and posted it on Facebook, where it quickly went viral.
She tells Scary Mommy that the post has already resulted in Glendy getting the help of an immigration attorney, pro bono.
“I never in my wildest dreams expected this post to get this much attention,” she told us. “I merely wanted to bring awareness to the fact that children are being separated from their families and conditions are deplorable in these detention centers.” But most of all, she just wants this family to be OK. “I just wanted to help her.”
“This is really happening folks,” she concludes. “What are we doing? Why are we separating families? If we must send them back, why separate children from their mothers?”