Mother and daughter separated under Trump in 2018 reunited at Tampa airport Sunday
Yudissa was separated from her daughter under “zero tolerance” in 2018. When they were reunited Sunday, she didn’t recognize the 15-year-old at first.
WASHINGTON — Walking through the Tampa airport Sunday, Yudissa stopped in her tracks. She barely recognized the young woman coming toward her.
Her daughter Jissel, now 15, was 12 when she hugged her goodbye at a Border Patrol facility in El Paso, Texas in 2018. That was before Yudissa was shackled around her ankles and loaded into a van with other migrant parents, told that she would be able to reunite with her daughter in two to three days after she had “served her sentence.”
Now, three years later, Yudissa and Jissel are one of about 30 families separated under the Trump administration that the Biden administration has been able to reunite this week, according to lawyers representing those families.
“I didn’t recognize her because I left behind a girl and I saw a woman,” Yudissa said.
In May 2018, border agents told Yudissa she would be sent to a facility separate from Jissel. She said they described it as part of her punishment for crossing the border illegally. She begged to be deported with her daughter to Honduras.
“I asked if they could send me back in order to be reunited with my girl because I never thought that they were going to take her away from me. And they started to laugh,” Yudissa told NBC News. “I told them to take me out of there, to send me back to where they had picked me up because I didn’t want them to take her away from me.”
She was sentenced by a judge to serve time in federal prison for crossing the border illegally — a penalty not applied to migrant parents until Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” in 2018.
She was detained with other mothers who had also been separated from their children after crossing the border. “We didn’t even know what was happening,” she said. “Not even the mothers because they would take their kids away and they would arrive one after another and one knew what was happening. Why couldn’t the kids be there?”
While in detention, she was given five minutes to talk to Jissel, she said, who was being held in a Health and Human Services center with other children who had been separated from their parents.
“[Jissel] was having nightmares. She would wake up crying in the morning,” Yudissa said. She eventually agreed to release Jissel to live with her father in Florida.
“I told him to come get her out, that it didn’t matter what would happen to me, but to take her out of there,” she said.
After prison and then months of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, Yudissa was deported to Honduras. Jissel remained in the U.S. with her father and brother — the family members with whom Yudissa had hoped to reunite when she first left Honduras for the U.S. They would talk by WhatsApp, but both Jissel and Yudissa agreed it wasn’t the same.
“I was sad because they separated me from my mother,” said Jissel, who added the hurt was most intense each time a birthday passed without her mother there.
For Yudissa, missing her daughter’s early teenage years was also painful.
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