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What’s next for reunited migrant mother, girl in viral audio

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Alisson Ximena, 6, was joyful Friday, July 12 after 31 days of being away from her mother, Cindy Alinette Madrid-Henriquez. Her mother was detained by ICE at the Port Isabel detention center. Alisson was taken to a shelter in Phoenix and they were reunited in Houston.
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HOUSTON – Little Alisson is finally where she belongs: in the arms of her mother.

And the 6-year-old had a message for the nearly 3,000 other children still separated from their parents: be patient and you too may have your happy ending.

The pigtailed girl smiled and nervously twisted the hair on “The Little Mermaid” doll she clutched as she stood to speak at a Friday news conference.

As she sat down, she leaned against her mother Cindy Alinette Madrid-Henriquez’s shoulder. Cindy kissed her daughter on the forehead.

During the conference at CRECEN of Houston — an organization advocating for the rights for all immigrants — the girl appeared shy but assertive in her responses to questions from about 50 members of the media. 

Less than 24 hours earlier, the girl wore the same smile and waved as she sat in her mother’s lap in a van parked in a Houston airport.

That smile was as powerful as her cries for help that added to a growing public uproar which forced President Donald Trump to order that family separations stop as part of his “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

“If I had the chance to talk to President Trump I would tell him to try to find a way to help us, there are so many mothers that do not know anything about their children,” the 29-year-old mother said. “It’s so hard for a parent to be away from our children. We feel desperate.”

The reunion happened more than a month after the two were separated. They were caught illegally entering the U.S. on June 12 while rafting across the Rio Grande near Mission, Texas.

More: Released by ICE, migrant mother reunites with girl heard in viral audio

In secretly recorded audio provided to ProPublica last month, Alisson is heard reciting her aunt’s phone number to immigration officials amid a chorus of wailing children crying out for “Mami” and “Papá.”

“I think God used her,” Cindy said Thursday to the Caller-Times before their reunion. “He used all the people that up until now have helped make this possible. … I’m very proud of her.”

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Alisson Ximena Valencia Madrid, 6, holds her mother Cindy Alinette Madrid-Henriquez’s hand before a news conference on Friday, July 13, 2018 in Houston. The pair, who fled from gang violence in El Salvador, were separated for more than a month under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. (Photo: Natalia Contreras/Caller-Times)

On Friday afternoon, the two walked hand in hand into a room filled with reporters before the start of the news conference. Alisson still couldn’t help but smile up at her mother as she clutched the mermaid doll. She had to leave behind her collection of Disney princesses and nearly all of her belongings when they fled El Salvador together.

Cindy was detained up until late Wednesday in a Los Fresnos facility until she was released on bond. Alisson was flown from a Phoenix shelter to Houston, where her mother was waiting to embrace her.

Reunited or deported?: Mother in ICE detention faces the inevitable

The mother-daughter reunion was a wild scramble throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning. Similar reunions have played out across the country as immigrant parents and their young children are reunited after weeks or months apart.

Under a federal judge’s order on June 27 the Trump administration was compelled to reunite “tender age” children younger than 5 within 14 days. The deadline was earlier this week.

More: Trump administration reunites 57 immigrant children with parents after missing court-imposed deadline

Nearly 3,000 other children must be reunited with their families by July 26, according to the order. 

It’s been an emotional three days for Cindy as the grief of being separated from her daughter finally lifted late Thursday when she got word that her daughter would be flown to Houston. 

But now — finally — the pair is back together.

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Alisson Ximena Valencia Madrid, 6, (left) leans in for a kiss from her mother Cindy Alinette Madrid-Henriquez during a news conference on Friday, July 13, 2018 in Houston. The pair, who fled from gang violence in El Salvador, were separated for more than a month under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. They were reunited earlier Friday. (Photo: Casey Jackson/Caller-Times)

Video shows Alisson beaming up at her mother as they walk out of the airport, hand in hand, to applause with other family members in tow. She quickly gets into a van and sits on her mother’s lap still smiling, still waving. An officer waves back.

CBP: No family separations happening at border ports from zero-tolerance policy

Still, Cindy knows they face an uphill battle to remain in the U.S. because her asylum claim, like so many others, could be rejected.

The thought of being deported after making the long trek from El Salvador to the U.S. overwhelms her. In an interview while still detained, Cindy broke down in tears at the possibility of having to return to a country where her daughter was nearly kidnapped by a gang member.

For now, the two plan to remain in Houston. Cindy’s sister, who lives there already, is also seeking asylum.

“The fight isn’t over,” Cindy said Friday. “This is just the beginning.”

Cindy has said they left nearly everything behind when they fled because of gang violence. A gang member had tried to rip Alisson from her mother’s arms while they were out shopping one day. She has said she knew then she had to do whatever it took to keep her daughter safe.

“I wanted to come to the United States to give my daughter a better future,” Cindy said. “The United States is the best place to get an education, it’s safe, and I believe my daughter is smart and will be capable to succeed here.”

Asylum in the U.S.: How it works and who is eligible for protection

In the airport parking lot, Cindy looked worn out early Friday after a crazy week of frantically working to reach her daughter.

Alisson, still grinning with happiness, turned back and offered a friendly farewell.

“Hasta luego,” she said before hopping into the van.

Caller-Times staffer Mary Ann Cavazos Beckett contributed to this report.

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