Dad Kept From His Daughter for Years Finally Reunited -- Just as She Was Taken Off Life Support

Manuel Gamez visits daughter in hospital
CNN

Tensions have been riding high over the crisis at the US-Mexican border for a while now -- and this week, they reached fever pitch. On Monday, the Trump administration announced plans to dramatically limit the influx of asylum seekers into the US, which sent shockwaves through the Central American migrant community, despite expectations that it will face legal challenges. But for 13-year-old Heydi Gámez García, the growing crisis at the border has been weighing heavily on her long before the new policy was announced. The young teen has seen the tightening restrictions wreak havoc on her own family for years, and recently, it all became too much to bear.

  • Heydi immigrated to the US from Honduras, and she has been living in Long Island, New York, with an aunt since 2015, according to CNN.

    After she arrived, she learned English in less than a year, became a promising student, and, according to her aunt, Jessica Gámez, she loved listening to music and visiting a Chinese buffet.

    But more than just a piece of her heart was left behind when she fled her native homeland -- so was her father.

    Manuel Gámez reportedly sent his daughter away four years ago in hopes she'd have a better life in America, far from the violence unfolding in Honduras. He told CNN that he was gripped by fear over his daughter's safety after her grandfather was gunned down by MS-13 gang members.

    It was supposed to be her path to happiness, but as her father's attempts to join her in the US were thwarted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she began to fear they would never be reunited. 

    "She was losing faith that I would be with her," Manuel told CNN.

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  • Earlier this month, Heydi's family says, she attempted to hang herself at home and since then has been declared brain-dead.

    Her desperate act came after four years of holding on to hope her father could join the family and repeated news that he'd been sent away at the border. Last month, their hopes were dashed once more when Manuel was detained at the border and kept in a Houston detention center. He says he pleaded with officials, explaining that his life would be in danger if he returned to Honduras, where his own father was shot dead in the street. But according to both Gámez and his lawyer, Anibal Romero, immigration authorities determined that the basis of his asylum claim was not credible.

    Romero says the family are victims of a flawed system, and that Romero only seeks the chance to work and be with his family.

    "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.

  • Jessica says Heydi was distraught the night she attempted to hang herself and Jessica tried to comfort her.

    Still, nothing could have prepared the aunt for what would happen. 

    Two hours after Heydi asked for some time alone, Jessica went to check on her. She found her hanging from a belt in the closet of her room.

    By the time an ambulance took Heydi to Cohen Children's Medical Center in Queens, it was already too late.

    "Heydi arrived in a neurologically devastated state and there was no hope for recovery," Dr. Charles Schleien, a senior vice president at the hospital, said in a statement provided to CNN.

  • On Thursday, the teen was taken off life support as her devoted father stood by her bedside.

    Tragically, the father would be reunited with his daughter again -- though not the way any of the Gamezes expected. ICE granted Manuel a temporary 14-day humanitarian parole request so he could be by his daughter's side in her final moments.

    "I feel I didn't take proper care of her. Like I failed her in some way," Jessica, tortured with grief, told CNN. "I tried to give Heydi all she needed. But her only dream was to be with her father."

    Sadly, he was the only immediate family Heydi had after her mother left when she was just a baby.

  • The story, which was first profiled by the New York Times and then CNN, has been sweeping social media in the last 24 hours.

    On Twitter, many people have tweeted an outpouring of empathy and condolences for the family, as well as concern about the many ripple effects these tightening immigration policies have on families. 

    "How so very lucky we are to have been born into a country where keeping your children safe need not mean sending them away, perhaps never to see them again," tweeted one user. "My heart breaks for the family of Heydi Gámez Garcia tonight."

    "I don't know when I last read something so unbearably sad as this story," tweeted another. "I was crying so hard reading that my kitty came and sat in my lap to comfort me."

    "We need to continue having conversations about how these detention centers deeply impact the mental health of immigrants and their families," tweeted another woman.

    Although this particular story may have ended in more tragedy than most, the fact remains that thousands of migrant families just like the Gámezes are living with the same kind of heartache as they seek asylum. No matter what side of the issue you stand on, it's hard not to see the humanity in that.