After 5 months waiting for a U.S. asylum hearing for her 12-year-old disabled son, Gustavo, a Guatemalan national in an increasingly violent Ciudad Juarez, Mexico -- his mother Elida, as she wished to be called for her own safety, ran out of options.
Selling fruit to survive, she made the agonizing decision of having her son, WHO HAS deformed limbs, learning difficulties, and who had been attacked with a machete in Guatemala, cross into the United States alone on Aug. 24, hoping he'd see a brighter future. The idea was that as an unaccompanied child Gustavo would be detained by U.S. immigration agents and then released to his grandfather who lives in South Carolina.
SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) ELIDA, A GUATEMALAN MIGRANT, MOTHER OF A DISABLED 12-YEAR-OLD SON GUSTAVO, SAYING:
''He's scared and he's angry because people make fun of him. That's why he didn't want to be in Guatemala.''
With scraps of paper with family phone numbers written on them and his birth certificate tucked in his pockets, he walked alone across the pedestrian bridge connecting Ciudad Juarez to El Paso, Texas.
What happened next was an unprecedented deportation process unique to the Trump administration's policy on asylum seekers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Under an emergency health order issued in March, which the administration says is necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the United States has expelled thousands of unaccompanied children under the age of 18 without giving them the chance to claim asylum, bypassing long-standing protections under U.S. law.
Under the order, that includes everyone, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman told Reuters, no matter their age or... disability.
Effectively, Gustavo vanished. No further word came of his whereabouts.... until a lawyer from Los Angeles heard about the case and contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement to find out where the young boy was.
Gustavo had already been deported to Guatemala, alone.
On Sept. 5, Gustavo was reunited with his father, Juan, in northeastern Guatemala. The reunification was organized by the Guatemalan government.
(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) JUAN, GUSTAVO'S FATHER, SAYING:
'''Why a child? Why?' Seeing the situation he was in. He didn't deserve to be treated like that. Why didn't they investigate whether he had relatives in the United States?.''
Juan called Elida after the reunification so Gustavo could say hi to his mom. Gustavo burst into tears. Nearly 2,000 miles away and alone in Ciudad Juarez, Elida, too, began to cry.