When Rolando last saw his son, Johan, he was an active 11-month old who liked to listen to music and dance. In the run up to their reunion today, after more than four months apart, he was not sure the boy would even recognize him.
“We couldn’t see him on his first birthday,” he told me in the San Pedro Sula airport café, awaiting Johan’s flight back to their home country of Honduras. “We can only talk to him via video once a week for 20 minutes. It’s so painful.”
Rolando and Johan crossed the border into Texas on March 16 and turned themselves into the Border Patrol. They were held for four days together in the chain link cages of a detention facility in McAllen, Texas. On the fourth day, an intimidating officer wearing an ICE T-shirt told Rolando to hand over his child. “He said, ‘say goodbye to your son, because you’re not going to see him anymore,’” Rolando said. “They said I would be deported. I told them if you are going to deport me, I want to go with my son.”
At first Rolando was told he would be deported with Johan. He said he was almost put on a plane in the end of March or early April, but an officer at the airport said he was being sent back to the detention center to wait a few more days until he could fly with his son. “I thought, okay, as long as I go with the boy, I’ll be happy.” On April 9, however, he was brought back to the same airport and put on a plane to Honduras. “I asked, where is my child?” he said. “But the officer there didn’t know anything about it.”
Since Rolando was deported without Johan, he and his pregnant wife Adalicia, Johan’s mother who had stayed back in Honduras, both said they have had trouble sleeping and concentrating. “I dream about him every night,” Rolando said.
Rolando and Adalicia showed me a video a social worker had sent of Johan from the child detention center where he was held in the United States. They had scrutinized the video for the tiniest details that would tell them how he is being treated. “We think there’s something in his hair in this one, maybe gum,” Adalicia said, pointing to a particular frame of a video of Johan grabbing large Legos out of a bin in the Phoenix, Arizona child detention center where he was held. The videos and brief video chats are all these parents have had to connect them to their child since March.
The couple are bracing for a difficult transition for Johan. “I am so worried that he will be traumatized,” Adalicia said. “As grown-ups, the trauma that we’ve gone through is one thing, but what does it do to a child?”