SAN JUAN, RGV – This is the story of a five-year-old girl and the importance of her signature.
The Trump Administration placed great importance on the legal “signature” of Helen, a five-year-old girl from Honduras, because it gave up her right to have a lawyer and have her case reviewed by a judge.
“Basically, when she first arrived, she requested a hearing before a judge, and the government did nothing. Instead, a month later, they gave her another document where she withdrew her previous request to see a judge. And this time, someone checked the withdraw box. So, it never went to a judge. Then, I had to fight and request it for her,” said Eugene Delgado, La Unión del Pueblo Entero’s immigration attorney.
Delgado said of the federal officials reviewing Helen’s case: “They talked to her and told her what she was signing, but how are we going to believe that a five-year-old girl can know what she was signing? It is ridiculous that the government believes that children can defend themselves or that they can understand their rights.”
Helen was detained close to McAllen on July 13 of this year. “They detained her family, her grandmother, her uncle, her aunt and her cousin who is a nine-month-old baby,” according to Delgado.
After three days, they went out together, except Helen. She was sent to a shelter from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). “She was imprisoned there for a month and then sent to San Antonio for another month,” Delgado said.
Delgado explained that when he finally knew where Helen was, following her arrest, and took her to court, he was surprised to find 34 children in court. He said the majority didn’t have a lawyer.
“Like Helen, the other children need lawyers and that’s why we’re going to keep fighting because the fight does not stop here,” Delgado explained.
Noemi, Helen’s grandmother, is worried because the girl is no longer the same one she says she was snatched when they crossed the border.
“Her way of being is different, more hyperactivity, more rebellious. It is not the same Helen I brought in. She is different,” said Noemi.
She said the authorities who arrested her gave her permission to stay in the United States, but with a shackle on her ankle that she showed to the media.
Delgado said that they achieved the release of Helen thanks to the help of the community.
“The community supported us and we did an online petition with more than ten thousand signatures,” he said.
Delgado and members of La Unión del Pueblo Entero organized this Thursday a celebration for Helen after the family was finally reunited. This included Helen’s mother, who did not wish to be identified.
“Under this administration, we have suffered a lot as immigrants because of the cruel policies that have not only caused much pain for many parents but also a lot of fear for our community. As we know, 60 percent of this area, we are immigrants,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, LUPE executive director, at the celebration.
The struggle, Valdez-Cox said, continues because many children are helpless.
“Despite the lies of this government that all the children are already reunited, not all the children have been reconnected with their families. So, there is still the work of the lawyers and many more lawyers that are needed here in LUPE and in other organizations to keep fighting,” Valdez-Cox said.
LUPE is asking the community for help with donations in order to help other children who do not have lawyers. The LUPE website is https://lupenet.org