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The New York Times

After years of family separation, her son returned. His life not yet

When Leticia Peren said goodnight to her 15-year-old son, Yovany, at a Texas Border Patrol station three years ago, he was still small enough for her, less than five feet tall. He would lean a little as he placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder and asked him to rest. Earlier that night they had concluded their long journey from Guatemala by traversing on foot for hours in the whistling desert wind. At times they had lost sight of their own feet in the mud that felt like quicksand. Border Patrol agents who detained them outside of Presidio, Texas, placed them in separate cells. Exhausted, Peren fell into a deep sleep, but woke up in a new nightmare. Yovany was not there, they had sent him to a shelter in Arizona. Peren had no money or a lawyer. When she saw him again, more than two years had passed. At the time of his reunification, Yovany was the last child in custody that the United States federal government deemed eligible for release. The ties that were severed during their 26 months of separation – during which Peren was a voice on the phone more than 2,400 kilometers away and Yovany made new friends, went to a new school, learned to live without her – have By the time they were reunited, her son had matured into a young man taller than her and with a deepening voice that she was now able to use to converse in English. Peren, desperate during the time it took her to get it back, lost part of her hair and developed a condition that, when triggered by stress, caused her face to sink to one side, years after the massive separations of migrant families generated an outcry. In the United States because of the trauma they caused, much of the public outrage subsided when thousands of parents and children were finally reunited. But for families like Peren’s, dragged down by the Trump administration’s most debated attempt to deter Immigration, the story did not end when politics came to an end. Up to a point, Peren and his son are lucky. They are being sponsored by a wealthy family who took them to their spacious home in a prosperous Brooklyn neighborhood. Groups of volunteers have acted as informal social workers, tracked down doctors to provide free medical care, and answered crisis phone calls at any hour. But these groups are now running out of resources. “Everyone has become emotionally saturated, financially, in terms of to the number of cases, “said Julie Schwietert Collazo, director of one such group, Immigrant Families Together. “The need is endless. There are cases where I have called so many people and no one helps me.” And it is sometimes frustrating for Peren that she can feel so worried in the house where she and Yovany live, with its elegant appliances and art of all the world. Her childhood home in Guatemala had a dirt floor surrounded in part by chicken wire rather than exterior walls.When she was eight years old, her mother sent her to do housework in the homes of wealthier Guatemalan families who could afford to feed her. At 16, Peren fell in love with a boy his age in whose house he worked. But the boy’s family rejected her because she was poor, uneducated and indigenous. After Yovany was born, she continued working with her baby strapped to her back while shaking, sweeping and scrubbing until she was on the verge of collapse. “I used to tell her, I’m your dad, I’m your mom, I’m your brother, I’m your sister, I’m your friend, “she said. “We have always been together, the two of us.” But by the end of 2015, the anarchy in his city was beginning to intensify. The gang members urged Yovany, then in high school, to join their ranks. At one point, he said, a man pointed a gun at his head and threatened to kill Yovany if he did not give him several thousand quetzals a month, which he did not have. He decided to move north instead of risking what might happen. then. News of the family separations on the U.S. border, which were just beginning, had not reached much of Central America.After Yovany was taken from a cell at the Border Patrol station overnight, Peren spent seven months trying to find out how to get it back. Finally, seeing no other option, she agreed to her own deportation, believing that she would be able to fight more effectively if she were free. After her release, she and Yovany kept in regular contact through WhatsApp messages. Peren did not want his son to know how much he suffered. Yovany didn’t want to tell him that his life was improving. After spending about nine months in a children’s shelter in Arizona that he described as the saddest place he had ever been, Yovany was handed over to a foster family in Texas who welcomed him warmly. . The parents gave him a tablet, which he used to film music videos with the other Central American children who lived in the house. Yovany became attached to the couple’s three-year-old son and helped care for him. A couple of times the family raised the idea of ​​adopting him, but Peren immediately scrapped it.In March 2019, lawyers seeking support for separated families made a presentation at a Hindu ashram in Queens that Sunita Viswanath, a Indian-born human rights activist. She and her husband, Stephan Shaw, thought that their large home, where they often housed multicultural artists and other activists who were passing through New York, could easily house a mother and son, and they agreed to take full financial responsibility for Peren. if he was allowed to return to the United States to meet Yovany. The night before Peren arrived in New York, more than two years after his first trip to the United States, Shaw spent hours on Duolingo practicing his faltering Spanish. He was the only one in his family with any knowledge of the language. Sitting in their living room with a reporter, Shaw and Viswanath, along with their parents and two of the couple’s children, greeted Peren with big smiles. She looked at them nervously as her lawyers translated the family’s questions: How was your flight? You are tired? Are you hungry? ”They sat down to eat typical Indian dishes that Peren had never seen before. She moved the food from one side of her plate to the other. Viswanath asked if he would be taking a citizenship test soon. Peren’s lawyers explained that it would take years for that possibility to exist. His asylum case, a first step, had not even begun. Peren said goodbye and settled in his room: the first in his life that he had not had to share a room. But she felt so alone and unable to communicate that she cried herself to sleep. Out of work, Peren took on a familiar role as a cleaner as she waited for the government to approve her son’s release. The family discouraged her, but she insisted that scrubbing and dusting soothed her and that she had nothing else to do.After almost a month waiting for Yovany, she went to receive her flight at La Guardia airport, but their relationship was not immediately reestablished. Standing in the doorway to find him, Peren burst into tears and hugged him tightly. But then they both backed off a bit. On the way to the baggage claim area to retrieve Yovany’s things, they didn’t make eye contact. In the car, on the way home, he video chatted with friends he had left in Texas. Yovany’s presence relieved any tension at home by receiving the affection of the host family. Viswanath began to teach him reading. His parents fell in love with him because he did housework without being asked. Yovany was on the verge of tears one afternoon when, after announcing that he wanted to become a filmmaker, Shaw gave him a second-hand Canon camera. His 12-year-old son, Satya, began teaching him to play the piano. Establishing relationships outside the home proved more difficult. Yovany tried to reconnect with some of the children she had met in detention, who had since moved to New York, but lived in immigrant enclaves in Queens and the Bronx, and worked when they were not in school. of coronavirus, the family was quarantined for a few months, after which Shaw, Viswanath and their son moved to their second home in New Mexico. Viswanath’s parents eventually left with them while Peren and Yovany had to stay in New York as a requirement of their pending immigration cases, but there was a lack of communication with advocacy organizations about who would take care of the needs. Peren’s basics. Shaw figured Immigrant Families Together would deliver groceries on a weekly basis, and left just enough money for any additional items Peren might need. There were a couple of weeks when the groceries couldn’t be delivered, but Peren didn’t want to ask for more money. She was ashamed that she had depended on the family for so long. She left the house one afternoon and walked down the street at a frantic pace, asking anyone who seemed to speak Spanish if they knew where to find work. Most, she said, looked at her like she was crazy. A Peruvian woman told her about a Hasidic neighborhood where she could queue to work cleaning houses, but warned that she would have to compete with those who spoke English. The first few times, Peren came home empty-handed. Over time, she started to get a job at least one day a week. “It’s something,” she said one recent night, “but I don’t feel anywhere near being independent.” In some ways, Peren said, her life is a lot. better than before. She and Yovany have gotten used to each other again. They laugh and stay up late at night talking. But even now, the conversation is superficial, they are not yet ready to share it all or hear the honest account of the more than two years they spent apart. Peren says he has come to terms with it. understand that reuniting with your child does not repair the bonds you once shared. Instead, he said, they are different people in a new place, building a relationship that is somehow just beginning. Caitlin Dickerson is a New York-based immigration reporter and a Peabody Award winner. He has written reports on asylum, detention and deportation policies in the United States as well as the treatment of immigrant children in government custody. @itscaitlinhdThis article originally appeared in The New York Times. (C) 2020 The New York Times Company

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