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Volunteers, activists help Guatemalan mom reunite with kids

Janey Pearl Starks (left) and Yeni Gonzalez (right) in New York. (Photo courtesy of Janey Pearl Starks)

A Guatemalan mom journeyed to New York from Arizona to reunite with her children after they were separated at the border – and she didn’t do it alone.

A team of volunteers and immigration activists made it possible for Yeni Gonzalez to reunite with her young children, ages 6, 9 and 11. They crossed the border together at the end of May and were taken to a detention facility in Yuma. They were separated two days later.

On Tuesday, after six weeks apart, Gonzalez was able to see her kids again. She visited them in New York at the Cayuga Center, the agency that temporarily placed her children in foster care.

“That day when they took them away from me I told them, ‘I promise I will fight for you and I will go find you,’” Gonzalez said. “Today I told them, ‘I promised I would come find you, and here I am.’”

Her journey to reunite with her children started when she was released on bond from the Eloy Detention Center last week. Supporters raised money to pay for her bond. She spent the next four days traveling to New York with the help of several volunteers who took turns driving her.

Janey Pearl Starks of Phoenix was one of the drivers. She received a text message a week ago, asking if she could pick up Gonzalez after she was released on bond.

“I was just going to help pick her up from Eloy and get her settled into the host family,” Starks said. “I originally was just going to help with that, but I ended up driving her from Arizona to Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

Feeling like she needed to do more, Starks flew to New York to help Gonzalez reunite with her kids. Though she wasn’t there when Gonzalez saw her kids again, Starks said she got to meet them later that day.

“They are just beautiful little kids,” she said. “You could tell they were happy that they were finally with their mom, but you can just see that they have the weight that children their age should not be having in their minds and in their hearts right now.”

That same day, Gonzalez was scheduled for a hearing at an immigration court in Eloy. Phoenix-based immigration attorney Juliana Manzanares stepped in to represent Gonzalez at that hearing.

“You have to show up or they can order you deported,” Manzanares said, stressing the importance of attending the hearing or having an attorney there representing the client.

“I was able to explain to the judge why she wasn’t present – because she was trying to reunite with her kids in New York,” she added.

Gonzalez still faces major obstacles to regain custody of her three children. She’s in the process of applying for asylum in the United States after fleeing violence in Guatemala. In the meantime, she’ll remain in New York and have supervised visits with her children.

Starks said Gonzalez’s supporters are turning their attention to help other mothers who’ve also been separated from their children. They’re trying to reunite one family at a time.

They’ve already been able to raise enough money to get two mothers released on bond from the Eloy Detention Center and are working to reunite them with their kids in New York and Florida.

“A lot of people doing small things will really make a difference, and that’s what made a difference for her,” Starks said, referring to Gonzalez.

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