Jaime didn’t get a birthday cake on his fifth birthday. That day, he was 2,000 miles from his parents, Edwin and Maira, and only talked with them for about 10 minutes via a WhatsApp video call. Edwin, Jaime’s father, told me he mostly remembers that Jaime seemed sad and kept repeating he didn’t get a cake. “It was…too hard,” Edwin said to me, speaking slowly, struggling to find the right words.
This past May, Edwin and Jaime, who was then still 4, set out from the department of Yoro, in rural Honduras, in search of safety. Edwin had been hounded for years by a group of drug traffickers who operate in the region—the traffickers had been trying to recruit him and his family to work for them. One of the local capos told him and his brother: “The people who don’t work with me are my enemies, and I kill my enemies.”
The capo tried to make good on his word, too. Their cousin—who also refused to work for the narcos, as Edwin referred to them—was murdered in 2017. And then they tried to kill Edwin’s brother; he escaped with a bullet to the leg. Edwin had moved out of his family’s home at this point—so as not to put them in danger—and was living in a remote shack in the mountains. Nervous that they would come for his son, he decided, in late May, to take Jaime and flee.
They are among the more than 2,500 persons who have been separated from one another when crossing or presenting themselves at the US border. They are also among the over 700 families who remain separated, despite a June 26 court mandate for the Trump administration to reunify the families. For those 700-some families, the separation crisis continues in a very immediate, brutal way. “I became crazy,” said Edwin, describing the first days after the government took away his son. Over the last two-and-a-half months, though it hasn’t gotten easier, the emotions have worn themselves thin, and, as he explained it to me, he’s had to find the strength to work and carry on for the rest of his family.
(“Edwin” and “Jaime” are pseudonyms: Edwin feared reprisal both from the drug traffickers and the US government, and asked me not to include any specific identifying information.)
Father and son had good luck as they traveled the well-trodden migration route from Central America to the US border. They weren’t kidnapped or assaulted. They didn’t go hungry, cram themselves into the back of a tractor trailer, or get arrested by Mexican authorities. “No real problems,” Edwin said. But once they made it halfway across the bridge between Matamoros and Brownsville, Texas, on June 11, their luck changed. They told a Customs and Border Protection official that they wanted to ask for asylum, and were quickly sent to a short-term processing center, known as a hielera (“cooler”)—one of the freezing cold, overcrowded, unhygienic human warehouses the Border Patrol uses to process, and seemingly punish, migrants.