Things That Matter

Honduran Father Whose 13-Year-Old Daughter Committed Suicide After He Wasn’t Granted Asylum Wants Her To “Help Another Person Live”

Heydi Gámez García, 13, took her life on July 2nd after her father’s asylum request was denied for the third time. Heydi’s father, Manuel Gámez, sent her to the U.S. after his father was gunned down by MS-13 for refusing to pay a “war tax” to the gang. He didn’t expect that Heydi would be granted asylum, but that he would be deported.

Manuel certainly didn’t envision that his goodbye hug and kiss four years ago would be the last time he would hug and kiss his daughter while she was still alive.

The Gámaz family was broken by MS-13 and failed again by the U.S. immigration system.

Credit: @amy_baker22 / Twitter

Heydi’s mother walked out on her and her dad when she was less than two months old. By the time Heydi was a year old, Manuel left for New York as an undocumented immigrant to make money to send back home to his daughter. After his father was killed by MS-13, and his mother’s health started failing, he worried about who would care for Heydi and his younger sister, Zoila.

Manuel’s sister was granted asylum and cared for Heydi in his absence in New York.

Credit: @holliewolfen / Twitter

A year after his father’s death, he sent Heydi, Zoila and his brother to the U.S. Heydi and Zoila were granted asylum. Heydi learned English within a year and started teaching her father, via phone calls, how to correctly pronounce English words. They spoke every day, always asking when he’d come.

After two failed attempts to gain asylum, Heydi lost hope for being reunited and started cutting herself.

Credit: @holliewolfen / Twitter

He never wanted to make promises he couldn’t keep, like being there for her quinceañera. Heydi watched her classmates complain about their parents’ visiting their school and fell into a depression. In December, she was brought to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after cutting her wrist at school. She was seeing a therapist until two months before her suicide.

“Please forgive me for failing you,” Manuel wants to tell his daughter.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there… I never meant to leave you,” he says to her. Heydi was Manuel’s only child. Heydi’s aunt is coping with impossible guilt. She told CNN, “I was supposed to be protecting her. I would never send her to Honduras. But I never thought something bad would happen to her here.”

Manuel was released on a two week ‘humanitarian’ visit to release Heydi from life support.

Credit: @holliewolfen / Twitter

He finally got to hold her hand and comfort her as she left this life behind. “We love you,” he whispered to her. “Don’t leave us.”

The last thing Heydi told anyone was that she lost hope in being reunited with her father.

Credit: @MaryJaneKnows / Twitter

She was crying as she told her aunt that she feels hopeless and that one day, she’ll become a lawyer to help her dad’s case. She then said she wanted to be alone and was found two hours later in a closet. She didn’t leave a note.

She was declared brain dead a week later at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens.

Dr. Charles Schleien told CNN that she was in a “neurologically devastated state” upon arrival with “no hope for recovery.” He went on to disclose that the Gámaz family “chose to turn tragedy into the gift of life. Heydi is an organ donor and her final act will be to save others.”

The mental health impacts of family separation at our borders can only be told one story at a time.

Credit: @apbenven / Twitter

Every story is important. Every life lost to policies that don’t incorporate the most visceral human desires, like growing up with your father by your side, is one life too many. 

What on earth are we doing?

Credit: @JoeGould50 / Twitter

Update:

On July 18, Heydi was taken off life support. Her family told The New York Times they decided to donate her organs. “She was so young, so healthy, maybe she can live in another person, she can help another person live,” her father told The Times.

Guatemala’s President Is Going To Have To Settle The Immigration Negotiation With Trump

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Guatemala’s President Is Going To Have To Settle The Immigration Negotiation With Trump

dr.giammattei / Instagram

Tuesday marked a new era of leadership in Guatemala as the Latin country swore in Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative doctor and former prison system director from the right-wing Vamos party. The 63-year-old won the presidency on his fourth attempt back in August with bold promises of changing a corrupt government and restoring the rule-of-law in city streets. 

“Today, we are putting a full stop on corrupt practices so they disappear from the face of this country,” Giammattei said at his swearing-in ceremony that had a five-hour delay.

His ceremony somewhat overshadowed by delays and protests against ex-President Jimmy Morales, who for four years dodged accusations of corruption. The scene of protestors throwing eggs and voicing anger at the outgoing administration was a reminder of the displeasure against the country’s deep-seated political corruption. It’s also a key reason why many are looking to Giammattei to bring change to the struggling country. 

As Giammattei takes office, there are questions on what his presidency will mean to Guatemala in the short and long term as issues over the future of an asylum deal with the United States comes into focus. 

One of the biggest issues confronting Guatemala and one that Giammattei will have to address early is the Asylum Cooperation Agreement (ACA) that was signed by Morales last July with the U.S. government. The agreement, which was highly opposed in Guatemala, lets U.S. immigration officials send Honduran and Salvadoran migrants that are requesting asylum at the U.S.-Mexican border to apply for protection here instead. There is now increasing skepticism as reports say that the U.S. wants to expand the deal to include Mexican asylum seekers as well.

Last year, there were many Guatemalans that were part of a 3,000 migrant caravan that made its way up from Latin America to the U.S. The caravan consisted of people that were looking to claim asylum and became a symbol of the growing migration crisis at the southern border. President Trump frequently attacked the caravan and eventually threatened to impose tariffs on Guatemala if it didn’t agree to the asylum deal.

According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute, “as of Friday, 128 Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers had been sent as part of the agreement,” with only a limited number actually applying for asylum there and others returning home. Giammattei has previously said that he’s willing to make changes to the agreement but on Tuesday said he would revisit details later. 

The country, one of Latin America’s poorest nations, is a key part of President Trump’s plan to curb illegal immigration and asylum claims. mostly from those coming to the U.S. Southern border. The issue for many living in Guatemala is how to let those seeking asylum when itself has become a major source of U.S. bound migrants. 

Poverty levels have only grown in the last 20 years and income inequality levels continue to be a big problem in the country. 

One of the big platform issues that Giammattei ran his campaign on was helping the shorten income inequality gap and poverty levels that have only grown in the last 20 years. Fifty-nine percent of Guatemalan citizens live below the poverty line and almost 1 million children under the age of 5 are believed to live with chronic malnutrition, according to the AP. 

There is also the rampant problem of street violence and cartel gangs that have had a major effect on the daily lives of many in the country. Giammattei plans to address this with reforms that include designating “street gangs as terrorist groups.”

“This is the moment to rescue Guatemala from the absurd. It is the moment to combat corruption and malnutrition,” Giammattei said on Tuesday in his first address to the country as president. “There is no peace without security, I will present a law that aims to declare street gangs for what they are – terrorist groups.”

There is hope that Giammattei will turn a new page in Guatemala that will see change come to all in the country that has faced uncertainty for years. But only time will tell if this is indeed new leadership or business as usual.

“We will bring back the peace this country so dearly needs,” Giammattei said. “We will govern with decency, with honourability, and with ethical values.”

READ: In Efforts To Double Latino Representation In Hollywood, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti Unveils New Historic Initiative

Despite Trump’s False Claims, Facts Are Facts: More Than 99% Of Asylum Seekers Show Up To Their Court Dates

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Despite Trump’s False Claims, Facts Are Facts: More Than 99% Of Asylum Seekers Show Up To Their Court Dates

Jorge Benez-Ramon / Getty

One of the biggest myths that the Trump administration has perpetuated is that asylum seekers do not conform to the legal requirements and processes required to guarantee their cases are being heard in court. The Trump administration has claimed that the only way to guarantee that asylum seekers’ cases will reach the court is to keep them in detention centers (yes, you read that right).

This seems a bit counterintuitive: if they are seeking asylum it is because they have a cause they find justifiable for entering the United States undocumented in the first place. A recent study sheds light on the fallacy of “missed court appointments” and reveals that if not in detention, a vast majority (let’s just say the totality) of asylum seekers do show up for their hearings.  

Numeritos hablan: 99% of who were not detained or who were released from immigration custody show up to their hearings.

Credit: AZFamily / Instagram

New data from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC, a think tank that tracks data in the immigration courts) at Syracuse University reveals that most of asylum seekers who are not detained do attend their court hearings.

This finding basically trumps Trump’s assertion that they do not, which misrepresents them as individuals who prefer to live in the shadows and at the risk of being deported rather than doing due legal diligence. On average, migrants who are caught at the border or who hand themselves in have to wait for more than two years before their cases are dealt with in court.

But there are some others who have to wait even longer, as the TRAC report tells us: “Overall, asylum applicants waited on average 1,030 days – or nearly three years – for their cases to be decided. But many asylum applicants waited even longer: a quarter of applicants waited 1,421 days, or nearly four years, for their asylum decision.” Four years is a long, long time… wouldn’t anyone want the wait to be over?

Other previous research also disregards the idea that migrants want to live in the United States illegally rather than seeing their cases go through.

For those who have been lucky enough to never have to flee their home country or live in constant fear of being deported, it might feel like migrants would rather hide than face the law. This is also the driving rationale behind the Trump administration’s move to send asylum seekers to Mexico and wait there until their cases go through court. However, studies have shown that they want their migratory status to be cleared so they can go on with their lives, free of worries of being deported at any time. 

When in doubt, use science! 

As Vox reports, the numbers gathered by TRAC are pretty definitive: “The latest data from TRAC shows that nearly every migrant who applied for asylum and whose case was completed in 2019 showed up for all of their court hearings”. Boom! However, the Department of Justice has raised concerns about the accuracy of TRAC’s data analysis. TRAC does not disclose its methodology but uses information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. 

The Department of Justice claims numbers are much lower.

FILE PHOTO: Children walk inside an enclosure, where they are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum, in El Paso, Texas, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Data from the Department of Justice contradicts the stunning 99% published by TRAC. According to 2018 numbers, the government says actually 75% of asylum seekers show up to their court hearings, a significant drop compared to TRAC’s analysis. And Trump’s numbers are even lower… yes, really.

He has said: “Tell me, what percentage of people come back? Would you say 100 percent? No, you’re a little off. Like, how about 2 percent? And those people, you almost don’t want, because they cannot be very smart… Those two percent are not going to make America great again, that I can tell you”. Wow, can you imagine a more deceitful way of framing reality?

TRAC’s report also reveals that more asylum seeker cases were decided in 2019 than in any other year… 46,735 people were denied asylum.

Yes, the courts are being busy. As the report reads, in 2019 “judges decided 67,406 asylum cases, nearly two-and-a-half times the number from five years ago when judges decided 19,779 asylum cases. The number of immigrants who have been granted asylum more than doubled from 9,684 in FY 2014 to 19,831 in FY 2019.”

But it is not all good news, as “the number of immigrants who have been denied asylum or other relief grew even faster from 9,716 immigrants to 46,735 over the same time period.” The three countries of origin that top the charts of successful asylum seekers are China, El Salvador and India.