A year after separation, migrant boy in Texas waits for his dad
His dad was deported. Byron remained, locked away with the thousands of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border by the Trump administration. More than a year after the practice ended, a small number of children like Byron remain in limbo, far from their families.
The boy spent his ninth birthday in central Texas, with a host family devoted to giving him a loving home. For weeks they'd planned this day: the party in their leafy, suburban backyard, the grilled sausages, the rainbow-colored cakes, the water balloons.
His parents, meanwhile, passed the day a thousand miles away, in the gang-ridden forests Byron and his father had tried to escape. They have not seen their child in more than a year.
But they have hope. A federal judge could soon decide whether to let the father return to the U.S. If he rejects the motion, Byron may be sent home to Guatemala. So much hangs in the balance.
"I think I'm going to go with you, or you're going to come here," the boy told his father, David, when they spoke on his birthday. "I don't know what's going to happen to me."
Back home in Guatemala, Byron always asked his parents if it was his birthday, no matter whether June 24 was a week or several months away.
"We'd tell him how many days were left," his father said, smiling.
When the day arrived, David Xol would buy a small cake — a "pastelito" — for Byron to share with his two younger brothers. Then, between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., they would gather to pray during the hour that Byron was born, to give thanks that God blessed them with their first son.
San Miguel el Limón is a day's drive away from the capital on narrow, winding roads. Most people are subsistence farmers or laborers. The village itself consists of around 100 small homes, most built of wood. There's a one-story school and several evangelical churches, sanctuaries of a faith spread through Guatemala in part by American missionaries in the 1970s.
Byron's first language was Q'eqchi, one of several dialects that trace back to Mayan times.
David, 27, worked a series of jobs as a laborer. He and his wife Florinda, 23, raised Byron and his brothers in their two-room, cinderblock-and-wood home. The parents slept in one bed; the brothers slept in another.
They went to church almost every day. David says he preached the word of God, just as his father did. His preaching caught the notice of gangsters who tried to recruit him; when he refused, citing his faith's prohibition of violence, they threatened David and his eldest son, he says.
On May 4, 2018, David and Byron left San Miguel to seek asylum in the United States.
Like tens of thousands of Guatemalans who have fled north, David hired a human smuggler, or "coyote," for 45,000 Guatemalan quetzals, or about $6,000. He borrowed the money.
They were smuggled through Mexico by truck in a wooden crate. In the middle of the night, the coyote sent them and about 20 other migrants across the Rio Grande, the river that separates the U.S. and Mexico.
The Border Patrol was waiting on the other side.
They were taken to the central processing center, a converted warehouse where hundreds of adults and children were detained in large cages of chain-link fencing.