Nearly 1 in 3 Unaccompanied Children at U.S. Border From Honduras

Nearly one of every three unaccompanied children appearing at the U.S.-Mexico border is from Honduras, the Associated Press reported. Emely Valdez is one of those kids.

Nearly 19,000 kids crossed the border alone in March, a record high, followed by 17,200 in April. In May, it took an average of 35 days to get these kids into a home, 9-year-old Emely was able to reunite with her mother in 25 days.

Emely was separated from her mom six years ago when the mother was fleeing from a bad relationship but the father kept custody of Emely. Glenda Valdez was finally reunited with her daughter after she happened to see a picture of her on TV.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mother and Daughter Embracing After Separation
Nearly one of every three unaccompanied children appearing at the U.S.-Mexico border is from Honduras. Emely Valdez is one of those kids. Emely (left) is reunited with her mother, Glenda Valdez, and sister, Zuri, at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on June 6, 2021, in Austin, Texas. It had been six years since Valdez said goodbye to her daughter in Honduras. Eric Gay/Associated Press

Here Valdez was, at Texas' Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, tearfully embracing the little girl she left behind. And it happened only because she had glimpsed a televised photo of Emely, part of an AP story on young people crossing the Mexican border alone.

"I love you so much," she whispered in Spanish in her 9-year-old daughter's ear. "My God, thank you."

It was a fairy tale ending—for the moment—to a complicated story, one that began in Honduras and with an unhappy relationship, according to Valdez, 26.

Emely's father, she said, was absent and did not provide for them. When Valdez emigrated in pursuit of a better life, the girl was left in the custody of Valdez's mother. But Emely's father took her back.

Valdez said she only had sporadic contact with her daughter—the father preferred that they not speak regularly. Every so often, Valdez would get a video call; eventually, Emely told her that she had a new stepmother who was not kind to her.

Emely told her that her father—seeing that she was unhappy with her life in that household—had decided to send her away, without telling her where. He placed her in the care of an adult who over several weeks helped her journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Around midnight as the day turned to May 13, Border Patrol agents encountered Emely in La Joya, Texas. She had been walking in the brush for six hours with a group of strangers and had lost a shoe in the mud. She was sobbing uncontrollably.

"I was thirsty and we didn't have anything to drink and I didn't like it and I didn't know where I was going," Emely said in Spanish on Sunday.

When the agents found her, she said she had lost her mother's number, and did not know where her mother lived. Desperate, she gave reporters details she thought might identify her mom: "Her hair is curly, but sometimes she straightens it. And she has a lip ring."

Her mother was expecting her, she said. But Valdez said Sunday she had no idea her child had been sent to cross the border.

Valdez was at her home in Austin, watching a Univision newscast one afternoon in May, when she saw a picture of Emely in a red hoodie. She knew at once that it was her daughter. Desperate, she immediately began making calls to U.S. authorities, the network and refugee agencies.

"I was like in shock, honestly, because imagine you are watching the TV and you suddenly see your daughter," Valdez said. "And then even more to see her crying and everything she was saying broke my heart, honestly, everything she said there, that she was upset and crying and all that, and to see her image, barefoot and all was very difficult for me."

Emely said she was taken to a group home. But Valdez didn't know that, and for weeks she said she got only vague answers to her pleas for information. Be patient, she was told.

"I was just traumatized, like I spent many days crying, watching her video, looking through her photos and crying and crying and crying," Valdez said.

Last Wednesday, she got a call: Emely was in a government shelter. They would be reunited soon. And then, on Saturday, she was told to meet her daughter at the airport the next day. At the appointed time, she raced to the bottom of the stairs at the crowded arrivals terminal to hug her daughter.

Guided by federal law and a decades-old court settlement, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department seeks to place unaccompanied children in the "least restrictive setting" possible, which, in the vast majority of cases is a parent or close relative already living in the United States. It took an average of 35 days to place children in a home at the end of May; Emely was reunited with her mother 10 days less than that.

Children are typically released with instructions to appear in immigration court, where a judge rules on their asylum claims. Decisions can take years—the court system has a backlog of 1.3 million cases.

While Emely awaits her court date, the girl has moved in with Valdez, her husband and their two daughters, who are excited to get to know this new sister they had only met virtually.

And to Valdez's immense satisfaction, she is reconnecting with the little girl she said goodbye to six years ago.

"Well, the plan is everything that God wants and to be with her here," Valdez said.

"To never be separated again. To ask God that we may never be separated again. To give her all of the love that I haven't been able to give her. Everything that she is missing. To give her everything I can and to take her to school. That she has a better future, to remedy a little of what has happened."

Mother Embracing Daughter US-Mexico Border
Nearly 19,000 kids crossed the U.S.-Mexico border alone in March, a record high, followed by 17,200 in April. Above, Tabata Rodriguez embraces her daughter Sofia after being apprehended near the border in Del Rio, Texas, on May 16, 2021. Crossings in Del Rio have risen significantly this year with many crossings earlier this year by Haitian migrants and now many coming to seek asylum from Venezuela. Sergio Flores/Getty Images