MIAMI — The 7-year-old girl had been apart from her family, alone in detention, for nearly 2 months.
On Sunday, she and her mother were tearfully reunited at Miami-Dade airport.
Busy passengers at baggage claim were oblivious to the emotional story playing out in front of them as Buena Ventura Martin-Godinez, 29, embraced her daughter for the first time since she left her behind at home in Guatemala, 61 days ago.
Martin-Godinez has been staying with family in Miami after she crossed the US border with her son and claimed asylum on May 1.
Her husband crossed with their daughter, Janne Idali Godinez Martin, shortly afterward, on May 8. They didn’t know that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had announced, the day before, that all adults crossing the border illegally would be charged with federal crimes — a zero tolerance policy that would force parents to be separated from their children.
Martin-Godinez’s husband was detained in Atlanta; Janne was detained and taken to Michigan.
During that time, Janne became sick. Even though Martin-Godinez is a nurse in Guatemala, she was powerless to help her daughter as she complained of headaches and pain from 1,300 miles away.
On Sunday, Janne clutched a stuffed animal as her mother wiped away her tears.
“She is asking to never be separated from her mother again,” Martin-Godinez says, translating into Spanish what her daughter said in her native Mam.
The mother’s message to other mothers: if you’re thinking of claiming asylum here, find another country. “The laws here are harsh. And people don’t have hearts,” she said.
“People dream of coming here, to save their lives, but I don’t what them to experience what I’ve gone through,” she said.
Escaping the threat of violence at home
As a nurse in her hometown of Huehuetenango, Martin-Godinez made a good salary, and her husband, Pedro Godinez Aguilar, had started a business. But that brought constant demands from gangs in the area. Pay up — or face violence. “We were threatened by people, that if we didn’t pay them they were going to kill us, or our kids,” she said.
So she and her and husband agreed that she would leave with her 10-month-old son, Pedro, on May 1, and he would join with their daughter after the school year finished.
She took a bus to Arizona from her town on the Mexico–Guatemala border, and claimed asylum. She and her son were taken into detention for a week before being released. She made her way from Arizona to Miami to meet her brother-in-law. There she awaits her court appearances and check-ins with immigration.
But once Martin-Godinez arrived in the United States, people back in Guatemala got word, and, she says, the threats to her husband got worse. He decided to leave Huehuetenango immediately, not even telling his wife he was leaving early. “I just called and they told me he had come. And that’s all I knew,” Martin-Godinez said.
Painful weeks apart
It was in Miami that Martin-Godinez got the first call from her daughter. “She was asking why was she there, why was she separated. Why can’t she see her mom, dad and brother,” she said.
Martin-Godinez had no idea where Michigan is in relation to Miami, but she knew it was far away.
“My daughter called me … telling me for days that she had a strong fever, a lot of tooth pain,” the mother recalled.
“Since my daughter doesn’t speak English, and where she is they only speak English — I left the social worker messages because she speaks Spanish. I would tell her my daughter is sick, I begged them to see my daughter but they didn’t pay attention to me,” she said.
What her mother suspected was eventually confirmed — Janne had an infected molar.
If she could have spoken to her daughter during those dark times, her message would have been simple, she said.
“I love you, I’m so sorry for what’s happening and will work hard to fix it.”
But on Sunday, at Miami-Dade International Airport, both Janne and her mother had big smiles on their faces. As they stepped out of the airport, Martin-Gidonez’s relief was palpable. Their plan to celebrate? Go home together. And have some pizza.
For now, it is a big win in a bigger fight for their family to be reunified.
“I feel happy that my daughter is with me,” said Martin-Godinez. “But on the other hand, sad because my husband is still in jail and they told him they are going to deport him to Guatemala,” she said.
“We ran away looking for a life here,” she says — and if he goes back, his life will be in danger.