Keldy Mabel Gonzáles Brebe de Zúniga was one of the first parents separated from her children at the U.S.-Mexico border under former President Donald Trump’s policy of zero tolerance for undocumented immigrants.
Her reunion story after nearly four years of separation from her two teenage sons aired Saturday on MSNBC. On Wednesday, The New Yorker magazine published a detailed account of her ordeal. The reunion itself was to be aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Gonzáles Brebe, who is from Honduras, told MSNBC that when she was separated from her children in September 2017, she felt like authorities at the border saw her as a smuggler. The Trump-era policy was designed to dissuade migrants with children from coming to the United States from Mexico.
“They treated me like I was not the mother of my children,” she said.
She headed for the United States in 2017 after witnessing the murder of her brother, the fourth of her siblings to die at the hands of hitmen, she told the New Yorker. Her family lived in hiding, she said, and her husband and eldest son, 18 at the time, successfully made it to the United States.
Gonzáles Brebe arrived at the border in New Mexico with sons Erik, then 13, and Mino, then 15, and flagged down Border Patrol agents to surrender and apply for asylum, she told the magazine. At first, the separation didn’t alarm her as much as it did later.
“They told me it would only be five days, and then they would reunite us so we could be together,” she told MSNBC. “I thought it would be soon.”
Days later, at a processing center in the United States, she asked, “Where are my kids?”
“They told me, ‘Who told you that your kids would be here?'” she said on MSNBC. “And it was there where I started feeling a strong sense of agony. I thought that my children were going to be in that place at that moment, but I didn’t see them again.”
Gonzáles Brebe was accused of entering the U.S. illegally and deported to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, without her sons. But she made her way back to Mexico to be closer to them.
The boys had been released to an aunt in Philadelphia in 2018, the year a federal judge ordered Trump’s family separations to end. The ACLU said more than 5,000 children were taken from parents at the border under Trump.
Following his 2020 election, the administration of President Joe Biden announced that four families would be reunited this week and that others separated under Trump would be able to meet in the United States.
Gonzáles Brebe, chosen to take part in the first four reunions, entered the United States with humanitarian parole, work authorization and a three-year reprieve from deportation, the New Yorker reported.
She said she wanted her reunion to be a surprise, so her boys were gathered in Philadelphia under the guise of being filmed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for coverage of the family’s ongoing legal case against the government.
But the mother tucked in behind a news crew as it entered the Philadelphia home, and her sons were pleasantly shocked.
“God’s voice was telling me give them this surprise,” she said. “They cried a lot.”
One thing she learned from the ordeal, Gonzáles Brebe told MSNBC, is “I don’t want to ever separate from them again.”