William is happy to be back with his father

Dressed in a blue t-shirt decorated with monster trucks, his brown eyes round and trusting, William, 4, gives the cheese sandwich he is eating in the dining hall of a Bronx Catholic Charities agency to his dad and waits for him to peel off the crust the way he likes it.  Later, sandwich half-eaten, William hands a plastic cup of water to his dad who, without pausing, holds the cup to the little boy’s mouth. 

A little boy alone

“How did William care for himself?” his dad, Javier Enrique Garrido Martinez, 30, said in Spanish, his thin frame revealing the 15 pounds he lost from worry during their forced separation.  “I was always the one who fed him.  I was the one who bathed him.  Todo yo; I did it all. How were strangers caring for him?  Who told him stories and rocked him to sleep?”

Mr. Garrido and his son are among the first immigrant families reunified by the court-ordered July 11, 2018 deadline.  Also among the first reunited and staying in the  Bronx were Adan García Gutiérrez, 26, and his son, Juan, 4, who arrived at the U.S. border from Guatemala on May 3, 2018. 

Together Again

Catholic Charities NY has provided legal support to all separated immigrant children sent to New York.  Now, as reunifications begin, Catholic Charities continues to assist. Catholic Charities worked with Lutheran Social Services of New York to arrange for the Garrido and García families’ first night back together again at a warm, safe and welcoming Catholic Charites residence in the Bronx.  Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan and other staff joined the fathers and sons for their first dinner together since their separation.  Chicken, rice and beans, salad and mangos were on the menu. As they shared their meal, they were relaxed, perhaps for the first time in a while.  

“We went into overdrive when we were asked on Sunday evening to get ready to welcome reunited families” said the program director.  “Plus the new sheets, blankets and toys we piled on each boy’s beds." They also enjoyed cuddles with their fathers.

Terror & Corruption 

For Mr. Garrido, his priorities seemed simple, just family and safety, and for much of his life he achieved them, he said.  He made a decent living as a housing construction assistant in his hometown of La Ceiba, Honduras earning $15 for each full day of work and paying $75 to rent a small apartment for himself, his wife Yolandi, and little William.  But on April 20, 2018, national police infamous as among the most corrupt in the world, kicked in his apartment door, demanding he reveal the location of a former neighbor who headed a neighborhood association that protested government corruption. 

The police pummeled Mr. Garrido in front of his wife and son when Mr. Garrido said he did not know where his neighbor was.  They returned again on April 30, beat him up, and then threw him in jail.  When they released him, they told him that he had three days to give them an answer.  They knew his schedule, the police warned, and knew his wife and son would be alone when he went to work.

Lacking enough money to get his entire family to safety, Mr. Garrido sent his wife to hide with an aunt.  Then he packed a small bag for himself and William, to begin what he hoped would be their escape to safety. 

A Different Path To Asylum

It took more than 15 buses and 20 days for father and son to reach the U.S. border.  William, a 4-year-old preschooler, grew restless, so they made up word games during the day and he sang William to sleep on bus seats at night. 

Finally, on May 22, they arrived at the Rio Grande.  Taking William by the hand, Mr. Garrido walked with him across the Laredo International Bridge that connects Mexico with the United States and entered Laredo, Texas. 

“I introduced myself to immigration authorities and asked for asylum,” Mr. Garrido said.  Instead, officials told Mr. Garrido the law had changed.  They took William away, sending him by plane to a children’s agency in Westchester and incarcerated Mr. Garrido. Ten days later they sent Mr. Garrido to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia; 17 days later to Folkston ICE Processing Center, also in Georgia, and 12 days later to Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, New Jersey where ICE kept him incarcerated him for 10 more days. 

“I’m trying to get you”

Daily, Mr. Garrido pleaded with his guards to allow him to phone his son. But he was permitted only one phone call to William during their 55 days apart.

“For almost the entire call William said nothing, only sobbed,” Mr. Garrido said, wiping his own tears as William, now finished with his sandwich, drove a green Tonka truck over his dad’s legs as if they were a roadway.   “Finally William asked me where I was. I said ‘I am trying to get you.’  But, in reality, I didn’t know how.”

Yesterday morning, he finally got an answer.  Hudson County NJ Correctional Facility authorities woke him at 3 a.m., telling him to change out of his orange prison jumpsuit back into the shirt and khaki pants he wore when he arrived at the border. Next, they cuffed his hands and feet and placed a chain around his waist.  At 5 a.m. they drove him to Varick Street Detention Center in downtown Manhattan.  At 3 p.m. officials removed his shackle and put on an ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts. Finally, two hours later, Mr. Garrido’s son came running in.  Now reunited, they went to the Lutheran Social Services offices where Catholic Charities staff met them and drove them to their temporary residence in the Bronx.

What's Next

Their future, however, remains uncertain.  Mr. Garrido says he plans to live with William at the home of an aunt and uncle for now.

“I was afraid I’d never see him again,” Mr. Garrido said as he gently kissed William’s head.  “Minutes turned to days, days to night; 55 days without seeing him.  But thank God for letting me be with my baby again.”

Lea esto en español en el periódico El Diario