Heydi Gámez García, a 13-year-old Honduran immigrant who attempted suicide while separated from her father, was taken off life support and has died. She'll be buried Tuesday in Bayside, NY, CNN reports.
Heydi spent most of her life separated from her father Manuel Gámez, who left Honduras when she was about 1 years old. He came to the U.S. and lived in Long Island until 2014, when he said MS-13 gang members killed Heydi's grandfather. Worried about who would take care of Heydi and her aunt, Zoila Gámez, he returned to Honduras. In 2015, he sent Heydi to the U.S. and shortly after, Zoila followed. Both were granted asylum, and moved in with Gámez's other sister Jessica Gámez.
But Gámez was unable to obtain asylum in the U.S. He told CNN he had unsuccessfully attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2016 and 2017, and both times ended up being deported. Gámez's lawyer Anibal Romero told the outlet that immigration authorities said his claim for asylum was not credible.
The latest attempt happened only last month, and Gámez was again detained by immigration officials. "She was crying, 'Papi, you'll never make it. They always catch you,'" he said, recalling a phone call with Heydi shortly before being detained. "I promised her, 'Daughter, this is the last time I try and God will grant me the opportunity.' But I got caught again."
Heydi had not seen her father in the four years since she immigrated to the U.S. Her aunt Jessica said the separation took a toll on the 13-year-old's mental health. Earlier this month, Heydi broke down in tears while talking about her father with Zoila and said she didn't think they would ever reunite. A few hours later, she attempted suicide. She was brought to Cohen Children's Medical Center in Queens, where doctors declared her braindead after a week. Gámez was granted a two-week parole to attend his daughter's funeral.
Heydi and her father's case is just the latest example of the challenges, and often tragedies, Central American migrants face when trying to reach the U.S. Per U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it is legal to seek asylum regardless of whether a refugee arrives in the country with or without authorization.
"How is it possible that man who is running away from his country with his kid and his sister gets sort of caught up in this broken immigration system where his daughter is granted asylum, his sister is granted asylum, and he ends up getting deported?" Romero asked CNN.