A 13-year-old girl who fled violence in Honduras has reportedly been taken off life support after she tried to kill herself when her father was repeatedly barred from joining her in the U.S.
Heydi Gámez García's father, Manuel Gámez, had made several attempts to join his daughter in Long Island, New York, where he had sent her to live with an aunt after her grandfather was shot and killed by MS-13 gang members in Honduras. Each time, however, he was turned away or detained by U.S. immigration authorities.
Last week, however, immigration officials released the 34-year-old father from custody on 14-day humanitarian parole so that he could finally be reunited with his daughter—to say goodbye and see her buried.
According to CNN, 13-year-old Heydi was taken off life support Thursday evening, with her father planning to bury her early next week in a Long Island cemetery he may never be able to visit.
"Please forgive me for failing you," Gámez said he wanted to tell his daughter. "I'm sorry I couldn't be there... I never meant to leave you."
Gámez told the broadcaster that Heydi's mother had left the family when his daughter was less than two months old.
He had moved to New York as an undocumented immigrant when Heydi was about 12 months old, leaving her with his parents in El Progreso, Honduras. He said he was forced to return to Honduras in 2014, however, after MS-13 members fatally shot his 59-year-old father in the street after he refused to pay the extortion "taxes" they demanded.
Fearing for his daughter's safety, Gámez sent Heydi to the U.S. with an uncle. She was followed by his younger sister, Zoila. The 13-year-old was granted asylum in the U.S. in June 2016, while Zoila was reportedly granted asylum the next year.
While Heydi's aunt, Jessica Gámez told CNN her niece had quickly adjusted to life in the U.S., she said that she deeply missed her father and wanted him to join them.
"Heydi was always asking, 'When is papi coming?'" Jessica Gámez, 32, said. "I would tell her to be patient. We're doing all we can."
While Gámez told his daughter that they would be reunited soon, U.S. immigration officials stood in the way of those plans, detaining and returning the father to Honduras three times, the most recent being in June.
When the father was detained in McAllen, Texas, he tried to plead for asylum, telling agents that his life could be in danger should he be forced to return to Honduras. However, his fears were ultimately not deemed to be credible, despite his father's fatal shooting, The New York Times, which first shared the family's story, reported.
Every time Heydi's father was turned away from the U.S., the 13-year-old's family said she seemed to appear more depressed, with Heydi telling family members that "life had no meaning" without her father there.
"She was losing faith that I would be with her," her father told CNN.
On the night that she tried to take her life, Heydi's family said the young girl had turned to Zoila in tears, saying that she did not believe she would ever be reunited with her father. She spoke about the possibility of becoming a lawyer to help fight for him to gain entry into the U.S.
Just two hours later, however, Zoila discovered Heydi had tried to take her life, with doctors at the Cohen Children's Medical Center in Queens declaring her brain dead one week later.
ICE spokesperson Tim Oberle told Newsweek that Gámez had been held in Houston and was facing a final order of removal before his daughter tried to take her life.
He was released from ICE's Enforcement and Removal (ERO) Houston Field Office within 24 hours of the agency receiving his humanitarian parole request on July 12, Oberle said.
Finally reunited with his daughter this week only to offer a final goodbye, Gámez was able to tell Heydi: "We love you," before whispering: "Don't leave us."
After burying his daughter, immigration authorities expect Gámez to return to Texas by July 27, after which the grieving father is once again expected to face deportation.