A Guatemalan mother is determined to get her three children back after the family was separated
Yeni Maricela Gonzalez Garcia is one of the thousands of immigrant parents who have been forcibly separated from her children. For six weeks, she’s been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, while her children were taken to New York. After being released on a $7,500 bond, she’s undertaking a cross-country journey to be able to hold her babies once again.
Like many immigrant parents seeking refuge, Yeni has already done everything in her power to keep her three children safe. First, she fled her homeland of Guatemala, after her family and home were threatened and when she feared her oldest son might join a gang. Next, she traveled hundreds of miles and crossed the border into the United States, seeking asylum and a better life — only to be detained and treated like a criminal, forced to be apart from her children.
The Guatemalan mother’s children — ages 7, 9, and 11 — were taken from her at a detention center, and she hasn’t seen them since Trump enacted his “zero-tolerance policy.” At the same time, she’s undergone subhuman treatment at a number of facilities, all while wondering if her children are warm, if they have food, and if they are safe.
Now that Yeni’s been released on bond pending her legal battle for asylum, she is undertaking a cross-country journey to find them in New York City — where her children were placed in a children’s detention center and foster care.
All along the way, volunteers like Janey Pearl Starks are making it possible by driving the woman in shifts from Arizona. She is arriving in New York today, where she hopes to see her children for the first time in six weeks, even if the union is temporary.
Gonzalez Garcia has spoken of inhumane conditions at the detention facilities, including weeks of eating only ramen twice a day, a lack of water, a lack of privacy, and a lack of bedding. During this time, she had no communication with her children. “She was detained with her children for two days before being separated,” Starks explains. “During that time they gave them no food. NO. FOOD. They said there were too many people there and that they ran out of food…This can’t be happening. It can’t be real. But it is.”
Even worse is Yeni’s own account of her detainment period.
“They transferred me to Tucson, where it’s called ‘the freezer,'” Yeni told USA Today. “I was there 17 days, where for me there was no food, there were no private bathrooms. I was treated like an animal. I asked about my kids, and they told me that I would be deported to Guatemala and my children would stay in the hands of the government.”
It’s unimaginable — having your children taken from you and then being treated like you’re subhuman.
While a federal judge in San Diego ruled that all migrant children separated from their parents must be reunited within 30 days, it’s unclear how this will logistically happen for many families. In many cases, parents don’t know the location of their kids, and paperwork is hard to come by. In still other cases, parents have been deported while their children are left behind.
“Not once in my life have I been apart from my children. Not one time,” Gonzalez Garcia says. “Sometimes I cry in my sleep, desperate because they are calling for me. It’s so hard because I awake from this and I don’t have them at my side.”
Volunteers like Starks, plus funds raised by people across the country, are helping asylum-seekers pay their bond, get legal representation, and travel to their children, wherever they are.
“The only little spicket [sic] of water they had access to was extremely hot,” Starks shared photos of Yeni’s scarred hands. “After using it, her hands would burn with a “chemically” feeling. If they couldn’t take the thirst anymore (because they were given NO WATER), they would have to scoop this hot, chemically water into their mouths.”
Currently, Gonzalez Garcia and her lawyer hope that when she arrives in New York, authorities will cooperate and let the desperate mom see her kids–and eventually keep them with her. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help her pay for travel expenses and legal fees. So far the site has raised almost $37,000.
Starks shared an emotional video on her Facebook page, where she describes meeting Yeni for the first time — and the woman asked her for a hug, because she hadn’t hugged anyone in “so long.” Hugging was forbidden while detained.
“Only because God is great, I’ve remained standing, for them, I have to fight to continue moving forward because I know that my three kids are waiting,” Yeni told USA Today. “What I long for is to reunite with them. I believe that God soon will answer my prayer and I can hug my kids and see them: their smiles, their faces. Because it’s been so many days since I’ve seen them.”
As for Starks, she finished her seven-hour driving shift helping the Guatemalan mother, but is planning on flying to New York today to further help Gonzalez Garcia and her kids in any way she can. “She will be arriving to NYC tomorrow and is beyond excited to see her children.”