It’s been almost a week since 11-year-old Magdalena tearfully begged for her father’s release in a video that went viral.
The video — recorded at a gym offering food and shelter to children whose parents were among the hundreds of undocumented workers detained in a record-setting immigration sweep — drew global attention to this corner of central Mississippi and prompted responses from top US immigration officials.
Days later, at least 300 of the nearly 700 people detained during last week’s operation have been released. But Magdalena’s father isn’t one of them.
Andres Gomez-Jorge is being held at the Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez, Mississippi. His family spoke on the phone with him briefly Tuesday for the first time since his arrest. The call came hours after CNN published a story saying that the family didn’t know his whereabouts and feared for his well-being.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told CNN on Tuesday that information on Gomez-Jorge’s detention was provided over the phone last week to someone who identified themselves as a family member, and he added that the agency would follow up to make sure the family got in touch.
Relief and uncertainty
Gomez-Jorge was working at the Morton Koch Foods plant Wednesday when the raids occurred.
An AP photograph from the scene shows him and other workers handcuffed outside the plant as they waited for transportation to a processing center, said Magdalena’s mother, Juana, who asked to be identified only by her first name out of fear for her family’s safety.
Juana invited CNN into the family’s home Monday to discuss how the raids have affected them.
She described an agonizing wait for word about her husband, noting that she hadn’t slept since he was detained.
“We don’t know where he is,” she said Monday. “We don’t know if he’s dead or alive.”
By Tuesday afternoon, Juana said that she was thrilled to hear her husband’s voice after so many days of uncertainty.
He asked how their four children were doing, she says, and told her to get him a lawyer. He told her that he may appear before a judge on Friday or Saturday.
“He asked about the baby, and he asked about the girls,” Juana said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry. Don’t worry about the kids. I’m taking care of them.’ ”
‘I feel very powerless’
The couple has four children, ages 11, 9, 6 and a toddler, Juana said.
Juana says Magdalena loves her father and, like all of her children, was devastated by his detention.
That, her mother says, is why the 11-year-old spoke so passionately as TV cameras rolled.
“Her father is very important to her. Her heart was moved,” she said of her daughter.
Juana says she doesn’t work and depends on her husband to bring in all their income. And she says she doesn’t have any other family in the area to help.
She is afraid she won’t be able to afford rent, utilities or whatever bail she may need to get her husband out of detention. She thinks it could be as much as $6,000 and doesn’t know how or where she would get that much money.
“I feel very powerless. I don’t have a job. Only my husband works. I’m thinking, what am I going to do?” she asked.
Juana says she and her husband have lived in the United States for more than a decade and came here for better opportunities.
“He didn’t come here to rob anybody,” Juana explained. “He came here to work. It is out of necessity.”
If Juana’s husband is deported, she will have no choice but to return to Guatemala with her children in tow, she told CNN. The kids were all born in the United States. They have never been to Guatemala and have told her they don’t want to go, she said.
Officials blame father for daughter’s tears
The fact that Magdalena’s tearful pleas went viral has not escaped her.
Juana says she is frightened because the entire world has seen her daughter’s face.
The family has had interactions with people that have scared them since the video was taken, she says — even receiving strange calls from some people inquiring about adopting Magdalena.
The video has been shared so widely that even US Customs and Border Protection responded.
“I understand that the girl is upset, and I get that. But her father committed a crime,” Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The federal prosecutor who announced the raids later described the girl’s interview as “heartbreaking.” But he maintained that authorities had no other choice.
“As a father of six children, it breaks my heart any time a child is affected by their parent’s illegal activities. And we see this all the time as law enforcement, whether it be immigration or tax evasion or bank fraud or drug use,” US Attorney Mike Hurst told NPR on Friday. “But the laws are the laws, and our job is to enforce those laws. And while this young child’s interview is heartbreaking, that’s what we have to do.”
Gomez-Jorge does not have any criminal convictions, Cox told CNN on Monday. The father of four was arrested while “working without legal authorization,” the ICE spokesman said.
Cox said that although Gomez-Jorge has not been convicted of a crime, the US attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi will decide whether he or any of the people detained last week will face federal criminal charges.
Many classmates also have detained parents
Magdalena seems uncomfortable with the fame she’s garnered. She was very quiet when CNN visited. She worked on her homework and played with her younger siblings after school, sharing soda and candy.
The 11-year-old said her favorite subject is math, so much so that she wants to be a math teacher when she grows up.
But right now, she just wants her dad to come home. Magdalena says a lot of her friends’ parents were detained in the raids and a large number of them, like her, still have a parent in detention.
Her teachers didn’t address the raid when she returned to school the day it occurred, she says.
Juana says she will continue to search for her husband and is looking for a lawyer to help the family. She says she’s trying to be strong for her kids.
She told Magdalena not to cry. Somehow, she said, they will find a way to pay bond so Gomez-Jorge can come home.