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Guatemalan mom and American-born daughter reunited after 8 months apart

"I was sad because my mom wasn't with me," Yeisvi Carrillo said in Spanish. "When it was Christmas, I cried."
Image: Vilma Carrillo
Vilma Carrillo and her 12-year-old Yeisvi stand for a portrait on Jan. 17 in Phoenix.Caitlin O'Hara / for NBC News

An agonizing eight months after Vilma Carrillo was separated from her daughter and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she received the news she had been constantly praying for.

Carrillo, from Guatemala, was told she would be flown from a Georgia detention center to Phoenix, where she held and kissed her 12-year-old daughter, Yeisvi, last week after nearly 250 days apart. The two embraced, Yeisvi wearing a pink backpack with Disney princesses on it that read “We Can Do ANYTHING.”

“Oh my God, I was crying and she was crying,” Carrillo said in Spanish.

Carrillo said Yeisvi goes with her everywhere and is afraid of being alone, even telling her mother: "I'm never going to leave you again. I'm always going to be by your side."

Asked what was the best part about being reunited with her mother, Yeisvi said, "Happiness."
Asked what was the best part about being reunited with her mother, Yeisvi said, "Happiness."Caitlin O'Hara / for NBC News

Asked what was the best part about being reunited with her mother, Yeisvi said, "Happiness."

"I was sad because my mom wasn't with me," she said in Spanish. "When it was Christmas, I cried."

Carrillo and her daughter are now living together in Phoenix, but their case is far from over as Carrillo awaits the result of an appeal of her deportation case and a chance at another asylum hearing.

Yeisvi said she just wants to stay in America with her mother and go to school and learn English.

"There are police here, in case something happens to us," she added.

Carrillo, 38, and Yeisvi were separated after arriving in the U.S. to seek asylum in May. Carrillo was fleeing her native country to get away from a husband who she and her lawyers say beat her.

Image: Vilma Carrillo
Carrillo, from Guatemala, and her daughter Yeisvi were separated in 2018.Caitlin O'Hara / for NBC News

As the children separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s policies began to be reunited under a court order this summer, Carrillo and her daughter remained apart because Yeisvi is a U.S. citizen, born in Georgia during her family’s previous stint in America.

The full scope of family separations remains unknown, with thousands more immigrant children reportedly separated from their parents under the Trump administration than previously known, according to a federal report released Thursday. Whether they have been reunified is also unclear.

Officials did not give a reason for Carrillo’s sudden release, but her lawyers had filed a habeas petition on her behalf and launched an advocacy effort for her release, said Lynn Pearson, a staff attorney at the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit that has taken up Carrillo’s case.

The timing of the results of Carrillo’s appeal or any potential future hearings is up in the air because of the government shutdown, Pearson said.

Pearson and other lawyers appealed Carrillo's deportation, arguing she was not given a fair hearing because her asylum declaration and legal documents that could have been beneficial to her case were in a backpack that was taken from her when she arrived at the detention center. And while she speaks some Spanish, Carrillo and Yeisvi’s first language is Mam, a Mayan language, and the interpreter at her immigration hearing spoke a different dialect, her lawyers said.

The government has not opposed a remand of Carrillo’s case back to the immigration court, Pearson said, and she was hopeful Carrillo would have another asylum hearing.

Representatives for ICE could not be reached for comment because of the partial government shutdown.

Because a child who is a U.S. citizen cannot be held in immigration detention, Yesivi was placed in foster care and her case was sent to a juvenile court. Carrillo and her lawyers feared she could have permanently lost custody of her daughter.

With Carrillo’s release from detention and her reunion with Yeisvi, the state attorney in Arizona filed a motion to dismiss the case involving her daughter’s custody, Pearson said.

Yeisvi was born in Vidalia, Georgia, in 2006, three years after Carrillo first came to the United States with her husband, according to a timeline provided by her lawyers.

It was after their return to Guatemala in 2007 to take care of her sick mother that Carrillo’s husband became increasingly violent and physically and sexually abusive, eventually punching out her four front teeth, according to Carrillo and her lawyers.

“He mistreated me very badly,” Carrillo said, adding that Yeisvi has told her: “My dad is bad. He hit you a lot.”

“I told her yes, my daughter, but we have to stop thinking about that," Carrillo said. "I want to forget everything that happened to me, too."

Carrillo and Yeisvi were taken in temporarily by a family in Arizona, and now her lawyers are helping them find longer-term housing in Georgia.

Carrillo said she was looking forward to being able to work and send her daughter to school.

“I’m here to fight for my life with my daughter, to keep going forward,” she said. “The only thing I want is to be happy with my daughter here.”