Tearful reunion after mom saw AP photo of daughter at border

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Emely, left, is reunited with her mother, Glenda Valdez and sister, Zuri, at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Sunday, June 6, 2021, in Austin, Texas. It had been six years since Valdez said goodbye to her daughter Emely in Honduras. Then, last month, she caught a glimpse of a televised Associated Press photo of a little girl in a red hoodie and knew that Emely had made the trip alone into the United States. On Sunday, the child was returned to her mothers custody. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas – Six years had passed since Glenda Valdez kissed her toddler goodbye and left for the United States — six years since she held Emely in her arms.

But here she was, at Texas’ Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, tearfully embracing the little girl she left behind. And it happened only because she had glimpsed a televised photo of Emely, part of an Associated Press story on young people crossing the Mexican border alone.

“I love you so much,” she whispered in Spanish in her 9-year-old daughter’s ear. “My God, thank you.”

It was a fairy tale ending — for the moment — to a complicated story, one that began in Honduras and with an unhappy relationship, according to Valdez, 26.

Emely’s father, she said, was absent and did not provide for them. When Valdez emigrated in pursuit of a better life, the girl was left in the custody of Valdez’s mother. But Emely’s father took her back.

Valdez said she only had sporadic contact with her daughter — the father preferred that they not speak regularly. Every so often, Valdez would get a video call; eventually, Emely told her that she had a new stepmother who was not kind to her.

Emely told her that her father — seeing that she was unhappy with her life in that household — had decided to send her away, without telling her where. He placed her in the care of an adult who over several weeks helped her journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Around midnight as the day turned to May 13, Border Patrol agents encountered Emely in La Joya, on the Texas side of the Rio Grande Valley. She had been walking in the brush for six hours with a group of strangers and had lost a shoe in the mud. She was sobbing uncontrollably.