After seven months in the custody of the US government and a decade away from her dad, 15-year-old Idis Nicol Tabora and her father were reunited Monday at baggage claim at Miami International Airport.
“Hi, my love,” said Armando Tabora as he walked toward his daughter with open arms. He was visibly shaking with excitement.
Tears rolled down the faces of father and daughter as they embraced for the first time in years.
“My daughter is my heart,” said the proud dad while his daughter wiped away tears.
Idis Nicol played with her hands, appeared shy and, when asked how she was doing, only said, “I’m OK.” She continued to wipe tears from her eyes.
Idis Nicol was among the record number of migrant children to be detained in shelters across America last year. About 11,900 children were detained in June, and that number rose to 12,800 in September and to 14,000 in November.
By December, the number of children in Health and Human Services custody reached nearly 15,000, according to an HHS official. The number of detained children began to drop in January, when an HHS official told CNN that about 11,400 minors were in custody.
Idis Nicol left her native Honduras last summer to meet up with her father, who has been in Florida for about 10 years. Her father said she was detained at the US-Mexico border by immigration officials in July.
Because she’s a minor, she was placed in HHS custody. That’s when her 36-year-old father began the process to get her out of detention and obtain custody.
“I feel such sorrow,” Armando Tabora told CNN last year by phone.
At the time, Tabora said he had provided the US Government everything he was asked for: his personal contact information, his fingerprints and the fingerprints of an emergency contact.
Protectively, he signed over legal guardianship of his daughter to a US citizen in case anything were to happen to him.
But perhaps the most difficult request to fulfill was that he get an apartment on his own — for him and his daughter. Tabora said he works odd jobs — working construction, cleaning homes, cleaning cars and doing lawn work — and he couldn’t afford to pay rent on his own. But he saved up, and by the end of November he rented a place hoping that would be the last step in the process to reunite with his daughter.
It was, but then came months more of waiting.
Since November 2018, Tabora said, he has been told the reunion would happen any day now. And that any day now has taken four more months.
Meanwhile, Idis Nicol waited inside a child shelter in Brownsville, Texas, with other children. She said that, like her father, she, too, was told she would be out soon. She was treated well inside the facility, she said, but at times became anxious.
“Sometimes I felt desperate because I couldn’t see my family,” Idis Nicol said.
HHS did not comment on Idis Nicol’s case, but said in an email that its first mission is “to create a safe and healthy environment in our shelters, one that ensures access to nutritious food, clean clothes, education and medical services.”
“The second is to identify the most appropriate and least restrictive placement, usually with a sponsor, for each child while they await their US immigration proceedings,” HHS said.
Idis Nichol said counselors advised her during those tough moments, and she tried to distract herself by playing games. She wasn’t the only child at the shelter who wanted out of detention. Idis Nicol said about a month ago a girl tried to escape the facility but failed.
Thinking back, she said the days went by fast. It helped to have a a packed schedule, which included English classes, recreational time, watching movies and eating meals. Some of the meals she remembered consisted of rice, beans, chicken, tortillas and nachos.
Idis Nicol stopped focusing on her routine and started focusing on the reunion with her father a few days ago, when she was told she would leave the child shelter.
“I felt happiness,” she said with a smile.
At baggage claim, Armando Tabora also took back custody of his daughter. He signed a few documents and was handed a manila folder with instructions on what to do next.
“I feel very excited. I was anxious to see her,” Armando Tabora said.
Idis Nicol grabbed her belongings, a black tote bag and a new blanket that were on a chair nearby, and walked out of the airport with her dad, smiling and not looking back.