GUATEMALA CITY - Nine Guatemalan child migrants who were taken from their parents at the U.S. border arrived home for tearful reunions Tuesday as the Trump administration tries to comply with a court order to return hundreds of separated minors to their families.
"I want to see my mama," Leo Jeancarlo de Leon, 6, said after he got off a plane from New York at Guatemala City's international airport wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt and a blue cap.
Four children arrived on a first flight and five on a second, each one escorted by an adult. Ranging in age from 4 to 14, they wore jeans, T-shirts and new-looking sneakers. Some of the girls were in pigtails. One was a pregnant 14-year-old for whom the Guatemalan equivalent of an Amber Alert had previously been issued.
Kids giggled as they were given strawberry cookies and Incaparina, a fortified drink made from corn and soy. In a blue-, white- and pastel yellow-painted room at the airport where the children were initially processed and given medical checkups, workers set out Lego blocks, toy trains, teddy bears and wigs for them to play with.
Around mid afternoon the children were taken to a state-run shelter where Leo's mother, Lourdes de Leon, had been waiting since 8 a.m. She wept as she knelt to embrace him nearly three months after the last time she saw the boy in person.
"I promise I will never again leave you," de Leon said, surrounded by a gaggle of journalists. "I missed you so much, my God!"
Manuel Estuardo Roldan, Guatemala's vice minister of foreign affairs, said Monday that 53 Guatemalan children separated at the U.S. border had been reunited with relatives so far.
In late June, amid widespread outcry over U.S. policies that led to separations of migrant families along the border, a U.S. judge ordered that more than 2,500 children be reunited with their parents.
However, hundreds remained apart after the deadline, often in cases in which parents had already been deported without their children.
Lourdes de Leon was one of those.
In a previous interview with The Associated Press, de Leon said she and Leo went to the United States in search of a better life because her low-paid job selling clothing wasn't enough to provide him with a good future.
They arrived in Arizona on May 10, and the boy was taken from her a couple of days later. She ultimately agreed to sign a deportation order because she said Guatemalan consular officials told her that would be the easiest way to see her son again. But she was returned to Guatemala on June 7, while he remained in a shelter in New York.
During the separation the only contact she had with him from Guatemala was video calls arranged by workers at the U.S. shelter.
"I missed my mama a lot," Leo said Tuesday. "When they separated me, I felt said."
De Leon said they would not return to her small, poor hometown of San Pablo, in the San Marcos municipality near the border with Mexico. At least for a while, they planned to stay with relatives in the capital.
Asked whether she would try to go to the United States again, she gave an emphatic, "No."
"I am happy," she said, still in tears. "The only thing I want is to be alone with my son."