“On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.”
What the Trump administration is doing to these thousands of children is morally repulsive. We have to stop it.
Here’s an excerpt from a New Yorker feature on Helen, “a smart, cheerful five-year-old girl” seeking asylum from Honduras. She ends up in court, separated from her parents. The organization helping her is lupenet.org, and you should support their work.
They managed to get Helen reunited with her mother, and out of Trump’s brown kid prisons. But here’s what happened to her:
In July, Helen fled Honduras with her grandmother, Noehmi, and several other relatives; gangs had threatened Noehmi’s teen-age son, Christian, and the family no longer felt safe. Helen’s mother, Jeny, had migrated to Texas four years earlier, and Noehmi planned to seek legal refuge there. With Noehmi’s help, Helen travelled thousands of miles, sometimes on foot, and frequently fell behind the group. While crossing the Rio Grande in the journey’s final stretch, Helen slipped from their raft and risked drowning. Her grandmother grabbed her hand and cried, “Hang on, Helen!” When the family reached the scrubland of southern Texas, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended them and moved them through a series of detention centers. A month earlier, the Trump Administration had announced, amid public outcry over its systemic separation of migrant families at the border, that it would halt the practice. But, at a packed processing hub, Christian was taken from Noehmi and placed in a cage with toddlers. Noehmi remained in a cold holding cell, clutching Helen. Soon, she recalled, a plainclothes official arrived and informed her that she and Helen would be separated. “No!” Noehmi cried. “The girl is under my care! Please!”
Noehmi said that the official told her, “Don’t make things too difficult,” and pulled Helen from her arms. “The girl will stay here,” he said, “and you’ll be deported.” Helen cried as he escorted her from the room and out of sight. Noehmi remembers the authorities explaining that Helen’s mother would be able to retrieve her, soon, from wherever they were taking her.
Later that day, Noehmi and Christian were reunited. The adults in the family were fitted with electronic ankle bracelets and all were released, pending court dates. They left the detention center and rushed to Jeny’s house, in McAllen, hoping to find Helen there. When they didn’t, Noehmi began to shake, struggling to explain the situation. “Immigration took your daughter,” she told Jeny.
“But where did they take her?” Jeny asked.
“I don’t know,” Noehmi replied.
The details from the sham legal process are nauseating.
According to a long-standing legal precedent known as the Flores settlement, which established guidelines for keeping children in immigration detention, Helen had a right to a bond hearing before a judge; that hearing would have likely hastened her release from government custody and her return to her family. At the time of her apprehension, in fact, Helen checked a box on a line that read, “I do request an immigration judge,” asserting her legal right to have her custody reviewed. But, in early August, an unknown official handed Helen a legal document, a “Request for a Flores Bond Hearing,” which described a set of legal proceedings and rights that would have been difficult for Helen to comprehend. (“In a Flores bond hearing, an immigration judge reviews your case to determine whether you pose a danger to the community,” the document began.) On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.
Summer went on, with no sign of Helen’s return. Noehmi and Jeny contacted LUPE (La Unión Del Pueblo Entero), a nonprofit community union based in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, to ask for help getting Helen released.
Founded by the famed activists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in 1989, lupe fights deportations, provides social services, and organizes civil mobilizations on behalf of more than eight thousand low-income members across south Texas; Jeny, employed as an office cleaner, was one such member. Tania Chavez, a strategy leader for the organization, met with the family to hear their story.
There’s a positive update to share. Helen made it back to her mom. LUPE and the community of people online who read about her case took action. Other kids need help, too.
Click Here to Support LUPE’s Immigration Legal Defense Work.
If you’re a registered voter, you need to vote in November. Stop this racist atrocity.
[A photo taken of Helen during her time in custody. Photograph via The New Yorker, Courtesy Eugene Delgado]