July 3, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Dozens of people went to Court Square in Long Island City last night to welcome a mother on the last part of her journey to reunite with her children after they were separated by ICE at the southern U.S. border.
Yeni González, from Guatemala, was released last Thursday from an ICE detention center in Arizona, where she had been held for more than 40 days after illegally crossing into the United States with her three children, ages 10, 8, and 5. Her children, on the other hand, were sent to New York City’s Cayuga Centers.
A group of volunteers, led by Julie Schwietert Collazo, a Long Island City woman, heard her story on several news outlets and raised enough money to bail her out while also organizing her travel across the United States to meet with her children.
While González was not able to meet with her children until this morning, given the Cayuga Center’s visiting hours, her trip to New York City culminated yesterday evening, with crowds of supporters waiting to welcome her as she passed by the Long Island City Courthouse.
The rally, organized by the same volunteers, was attended by leaders of local civic associations and elected officials including State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, and State Senate candidate Jessica Ramos.
“This has been the worst thing that has happened in my life,” González said of being separated from her children. “I hope to God that my children recover from all this trauma.”
González said she came to the United States to provide a better life for her children, given her native county’s poverty.
“I had nothing to offer my children there,” she said. “I didn’t want them to go down the wrong paths.”
González also praised the volunteers who organized it all, including Schwietert Collazo who spearheaded the effort to bail González out and drive her to the city. The GoFundMe page she started for Gonzalez and others, in addition, has raised over $35,000.
The two immediately embraced through tears after González stepped out of the car into the Courthouse plaza.
“It’s incredible to me to think about the people that have shown up and how they’ve protected her and cared for her at a time where she’s really, really vulnerable” Schwietert Collazo said.
She said González trek across the U.S. shows the collective power of people.
“It’s really just about showing up and saying what can you do to push back against this really abusive, evil administration and not to wake up in the morning and feel totally paralyzed by fear,” Schwietert Collazo said.
The volunteer group’s efforts will not stop at González, however, as the group is already working toward posting bail for another mother currently in a detention center.
One attendee, Mary Jobaida, said she was at the welcoming rally because it’s her “American responsibility.” She gifted González a bracelet that said “She believed she could, so she did.”
I’m a mother of three and I cannot imagine anyone taking my children away from me,” she said. “I felt like coming here to support her, to show her that her American siblings are here for her.”
González met with her children at 9 a.m. today after staying at a volunteer’s home in Queens for the night.
Her next steps, however, are unclear. José Xavier Orochena, González’s lawyer, said her case—like many of the people separated from their children at the border—is unprecedented.
While she will reunite with her children, it doesn’t mean she will get to go home with her children, Orochena said, given the bureaucracy of the Cayuga Centers.
In addition, González’s family in North Carolina has applied to become the children’s sponsor, and the application appears to be going through, which poses other steps.
“There’s no other immigration attorney that has faced this,” Orochena said. “This is absolutely new. This was done at the whim of the president without the forethought of the direct consequences and the collateral consequences.”