Three children who were brought to Manhattan after they were separated from their mom at the U.S.-Mexico border in May were reunited with her Tuesday.
Yeni Gonzalez of Guatemala saw her children, ages 6, 9 and 11, for the first time since May 19 at the Cayuga Centers foster care facility in East Harlem, where more than 200 children have been brought in the past few months after being separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. She spent four days traveling to the city by car from Arizona, where she had been held after crossing the border, Rep. Adriano Espaillat said at a news conference outside the center.
“We’ve shared a lot of sorrow together and we’ve suffered a lot,” Gonzalez said through a translator during the news conference.
Emotions ran high as Gonzalez was able to hug her children for the first time, Espaillat said.
There is power in a mother’s love for her children, and Yeni Gonzalez will be reunited with her kids. Nothing can keep them apart and nothing can stop our work to #KeepFamiliesTogether. pic.twitter.com/dYePyWiD6e— Adriano Espaillat (@RepEspaillat) July 3, 2018
“There is power in a mother’s love, and we should never underestimate the importance of our work to bring this family and others together,” he added.
But Gonzalez’s children aren’t allowed to leave yet, despite having an aunt who has signed on to sponsor the children in North Carolina.
“Everyone in the sponsor home has to be fingerprinted,” Espaillat said. The company contracted by the federal government is “taking far too long to get the fingerprints back and for the paperwork to be completed,” he said.
Gonzalez was told that the process could take up to 60 days, Espaillat said, but added that he is working with her attorney to try to expedite it.
In the meantime, Gonzalez has no plans to leave before her children are released.
“She will not leave the state; she will not leave the city without her children,” her attorney, Jose Xavier Orochena said.
It remains unclear how Gonzalez intends to remain in the country or if she will be able to travel to North Carolina with her children when they are released.
The emotional reunion would not have been possible, Espaillat noted, without the help of a group of New Yorkers who helped raise money for Gonzalez’s bond out of detention and coordinated her care and transportation across the country.
Julie Schwietert Collazo, a mom of three and the so-called “Captain of Team Yeni,” started a GoFundMe on June 25 that has amassed over $37,700 in seven days. On Tuesday, she stood by a tearful Gonzalez outside of the Cayuga Centers.
“It’s amazing. We started something one week ago yesterday, and this is really just the first hurdle; the bonding her out, the getting her across the country through a network of amazing people,” she said, adding that many of the people who helped did not know each other before uniting behind Gonzalez. “I’m just so really gratified that she made it here, but we also know that we have long way to go.”
Gonzalez is not the only parent who was separated from their child, and Collazo said they intend to help others reunite.
An update posted to her GoFundMe page said the group has identified at least one other mother who is being detained in Arizona who has a 5-year-old child being cared for by the Cayuga Centers in East Harlem. Collazo said she is “likely” to be the next case the group will take on.