SAN PABLO, SAN MARCOS, GUATEMALA - Lourdes de León stares at the toys of her 6-year-old son. They are a reminder that Leo Giancarlo de León López is far away.
He is in New York, but she was deported back to her native Guatemala in early June.
More than a month later, mother and son are still apart. De Leon surrendered her son in mid-May to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after being caught in Arizona, where she had hoped to seek asylum following a long journey from Guatemala.
“I am aware that one commits a crime, entering illegally, but it’s more of a crime when they take a son away from you,” de Leon says in Spanish from her home in San Pablo, San Marcos, in northwestern Guatemala. “Because they do not have the right to do that. If they grabbed us together, why not deport us together?”
Mother in Arizona, son in New York
After CBP turned the pair over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the 28-year-old mother was detained at the Eloy immigration detention center in Arizona; Leo Giancarlo was sent to the Cayuga center in New York.
“They called me on June 4th to sign my deportation order. When I was going to sign it, I asked three times if it was together with my son. And the three times I asked them, the ICE agent, assured me, ‘yes,’” she said.
But she says later, the Guatemalan consul told her that she would be going alone, leaving her son behind in the U.S.
Lourdes says she was tricked. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement provided a copy of the signed document to VOA along with this statement:
“On May 30, Ms. De Leon requested to be reunified with her son for removal. On June 5, Ms. De Leon was advised that their removal would be delayed. She was offered the option to remain in custody while transfer arrangements were made for her son, but declined to avail herself of that option. On June 6, Ms. De Leon signed a form consenting to her removal without her child. The Guatemalan consulate was also advised of her decision. Ms. De Leon was removed to Guatemala on June 7.”
De Leon disputes this version, adding she had no legal representation at the time.
Bringing Leo home
Now, De Leon’s efforts are focused on getting her son back, something the young boy asks about every time they communicate through a social worker.
“To this day he is still saying that I have to hurry up with the papers,” she said, “because he does not want to be there anymore.”
The Department of Health and Human Services is under court order to reunite parents and children older than 5 by July 27. But Tuesday, HHS missed a deadline to unite less than 100 children, 5 and younger. Only about two-thirds were on track to be reunited with parents.
Almost 3,000 older children were separated.
But de Leon has a lawyer now, and he says she and Leo may be reunited soon.
“What they have told me is that I have to go to the airport for him because he is going to come with a companion there, but they do not tell me the date, they just tell me that they will send him to me, but they do not tell me the date,” she said.
De Leon is being represented at no cost by lawyer Michael Avenatti, who recently became famous for representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels. On Daniels’ behalf, Avenatti has filed suits against President Donald Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen in relation to a $130,000 payment Cohen made to keep Daniels quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump.
Since the Trump administration began separating parents and children, Avenatti has branched out into immigration law and is representing 60 families, including de Leon. She is grateful for his efforts in the face of fear that she will never see Leo again.
“I don’t care that they deported me, but that my son is returned to me right now!” she says in the agony of separation. “It’s the only thing I ask.”