ARMENIA, El Salvador (Reuters) - Ana Henriquez prays that her six-year-old granddaughter will soon be reunited with her mother, even if it means that they are both deported back to El Salvador.
The anguished voice of her granddaughter became a viral indictment of the U.S. policy of separating detained immigrant children from their parents after audio of children crying for their parents was released this week.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday backed down and abandoned the policy that was aimed at immigrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border after images of youngsters in cages sparked outrage at home and abroad.
“I want my aunt to come and take me to her house,” the child told a border agent, according to audio obtained by investigative news site ProPublica.
The girl says she knew her aunt’s phone number. “My mom, after my aunt comes to me, will come as soon as possible to take me with her,” she pleads.
More than 1,200 miles away from the U.S. border, Henriquez on Wednesday polished a framed photo of the girl in a party dress and hanged it back on the wall across from a small altar with an image of the Virgin Mary, rosary beads and candles.
The girl’s toys and books are scattered about her house.
“I hope that they can get back together,” she said. “If they are going to send them back, then send them and they can keep fighting here.”
It had been 15 days since her 29-year-old daughter, Cindy Madrid, and her daughter were detained and separated, Henriquez said.
She had been unable to speak with either, but her other daughters who are already in the United States had managed to speak once with the child and knew she was in Houston.
“The girl told them that she was sleeping on the floor, that she was covered with a plastic blanket, that she was cold and afraid of being there, and that she wanted them to come pick her up,” Henriquez said.
She has no idea where her daughter is being held.
Madrid, frustrated by a lack of work in her town, had traveled to the United States in the hope of joining her two sisters in Houston.
They had helped her pay $16,000 to people smugglers who said they could get her safely there, Henriquez said.
Waves of Central Americans have fled poverty and violence to try to cross into the United States, driving the Trump administration to implement the policy of separating families.
Following the backlash, including a rebuke from Pope Francis, Trump ordered that immigrant families should be detained together, but it was not clear for how long.
“He has children too and he should put himself in the place of all the immigrants who are separated and of the relatives who are here with a broken heart and hear our cry,” Henriquez said of Trump, shortly before his announcement.
Editing by Robert Birsel