A detained toddler who was separated from his father at the border took his first steps and said his first words while in U.S. custody. The child, 15-month-old Johan Bueso Montecinos, was separated from his parents for five months after he and his father crossed the U.S./Mexico border illegally.
His father, Rolando Antonio Bueso Castillo, crossed the border with Johan hoping for a better life. Castillo’s plan was to help his son escape poverty in Honduras so his children wouldn’t have to grow up in the same poverty he did. The 47-year-old dropped out of school in the fourth grade to sell burritos to help support his family, according to the AP.
Castillo’s younger brother and his sister already made better lives for themselves in the United States. Castillo, whose wife Adalicia Montecinos is expecting their second child, hoped to do the same. What happened instead was devastating to both parents and their young son.
Castillo and Johan spent five days in detention together before they were separated. While Castillo went back to Honduras, his son stayed at a detention center in Arizona. When he appeared in court, Johan “drank milk from a bottle, played with a small purple ball that lit up when it hit the ground and occasionally asked for ‘agua.'”
Daily Kos added that Judge Richardson was upset with the situation and having to ask the boy if he understood the proceedings. He stated, “I’m embarrassed to ask it because I don’t know who you would explain it to unless you think that a 1-year-old could learn immigration law.”
The boy’s parents received weekly videos from Johan’s social worker in the United States. It was from those videos that they saw their child take his first steps and witnessed him waking up and crying on his first birthday. At Johan’s trial, they learned he had said his first words.
When finally reunited with his family, Johan didn’t recognize them at first. Adalicia told the AP, “I kept saying Johan, Johan, and he started to cry.” But his father won him over eventually with a game of ball. The reunion took an hour, but the 15-month-old finally warmed up enough to laugh while his parents kissed him.
While their reunion had a happy ending, Rolando told the AP he worries his son will blame him later for his failure. He’s also not sure if he will attempt the journey again, commenting, “They broke something in me over there. This was never my son’s fault. Why did he have to be punished?”
While Johan and his parents are reunited, many other children still remain in US detention centers.