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This heartbreaking immigration story on Facebook led to a silver lining

This traveler tells of her heartbreaking experience at an immigration detention center to fellow passenger and it goes viral.
Photo credit:
Wanda Villanueva - Facebook

Wanda Villanueva was on a flight back from California when she met Glendy and her 7-year-old son, the two were on their way to Rhode Island to stay with some family. That sounds like a nice story until you realize as Wanda did that there was something more heartbreaking to it.

In a now-viral Facebook post written on June 9, Wanda recalls the encounter with her co-passengers. She said the two looked exhausted. Curious Wanda started up a conversation.

“We began to chat and the story she began to share with me left me heartbroken. This was her second flight since she was taken out of an immigration detention center.”

Glendy, pictured above (we have disguised her for protection) said that she and her son had just spent almost a week there and somehow got separated from her husband. She conveyed to Wanda that they all had to sleep on the floor every night with only a small “nylon” blanket to keep them warm in an air-conditioned room. “They were very cold,” Wanda explains.

“When her husband was separated from them her boy cried for two days asking for his father. They were unable to shower for the entire duration and when her son wet himself from the trauma they endured, the officers did not allow her to wash him up. She witnessed some children being separated from their families and women hysterically crying out for their children.”

Glendy continued to tell Wanda her story of the conditions in the detention center. Tales of pregnant women sleeping on the floor and kids being separated from their families’ boys crying for their fathers and wives feeling “dead” inside.

Wanda’s aisle-mate talked about losing her home in a Guatemalan mudslide then coming to the United States in hopes of finding a better life. But even as harrowing as her story is Glendy stayed optimistic.

“She told me how much she enjoyed working," wrote Wanda, "as if trying to convince me she was not here to get anything without putting in the hard work.”

“Her brother in law had paid for the plane tickets and was waiting for them. She has never met him before. She lifted her pant leg and showed me the ankle monitor they had put on her. She only had the clothes on her back and a few personal items in a clear bag.”

Wanda grew more concerned and asked if they had eaten anything.

No, Glendy replied. "We have not eaten since this morning.’ It was 10 pm. She still had another plane to catch once she landed in Charlotte. Once we landed, I bought them breakfast and walked them to their gate. The little boy had been given a clean pair of pants from a church organization. They were probably four inches above his skinny ankles and his sneakers were too big for his little feet. His eyes darted back and forth as we walked through the busy airport, trying to understand this new world, this strange language and what was happening to his family. He looked so very sad and frightened."

Wanda escorted them to their connecting gate and gave Glendy a hug and said to try and remain positive, to pray hard and thank god she and her boy remain together, hoping that her kindness would be a beacon of hope on her new journey.

“I got to my car and cried in the long-term parking lot for 15 minutes,” Wanda wrote. “This is really happening folks. What are we doing? Why are we separating families? If we must send them back, why separate children from their mothers?”

But this story has a silver lining. Thanks to the attention Wanda's Facebook post received, an immigration lawyer has decided to help. 

"I am happy to report that through my post I was able to obtain an immigration attorney for Glendy pro bono," Wanda told San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. "I never in my wildest dreams expected this post to get this much attention. I merely wanted to bring awareness to the fact that children are being separated from their families and conditions are deplorable in these detention centers. I just wanted to try to help her."