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13-Year-Old Immigrant Heydi Gámez García Dies by Suicide After Separation from Father

Heydi Gámez García, a 13-year-old Honduran immigrant, died on Friday after being removed from life support following a suicide attempt on July 19. Her family said her separation from her father, Manuel Gámez, played a significant role in her declining mental health. The teen’s death highlights the devastating mental health impact family separations are having across the country.

According to CNN, Gámez initially came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant when Heydi was 1 year old with his sister, Jessica Gámez, who was granted asylum in the U.S. In 2014, however, Gámez returned to Honduras after Heydi’s grandfather was murdered by MS-13 gang members in New York amid worries about his mother’s health, who was caring for Heydi in Honduras.

A year later, Gámez sent Heydi and his younger sister Zoila Gámez away from their violent hometown in Honduras to the U.S. with an uncle. Heydi and Zoila were both granted asylum by 2016. Gámez, however, was denied asylum. His lawyer, Anibal Romero, told CNN U.S. immigration officials said Gámez’s asylum claim wasn’t valid. Gámez attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2016 and 2017 but was detained both times. He tried a third time in June and was detained again.

Heydi’s family told CNN her mental health suffered after continued separation from her father, who hadn’t seen his daughter since he sent her away from Honduras in 2014. While Heydi’s family said she adjusted well to life in the U.S. and spoke to her father on the phone regularly, she struggled each time Gámez was able to reunite with her.

“Heydi was always asking, ‘When is Papi coming?’” Jessica Gámez told CNN. “I would tell her to be patient. We’re doing all we can.”

Heydi’s family said the struggle to reunite Gámez with his daughter played a significant role in her worsening mental health, a risk factor for many asylum seekers separated from their families. According to the American Psychological Association (ADA), separating migrant families can have devastating consequences on their mental health, particularly for young people. Studies found longer separation times resulted in higher rates of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Many immigrants are leaving traumatic situations in their home countries, and their journeys to get here are extremely arduous and inflict more trauma,” UCLA professor Carola Suárez-Orozco, Ph.D., said in an APA article. “To separate children from their parents inflicts further trauma. This is cruel to children and hugely disruptive to their sense of safety and well-being.”

Gámez was granted a 14-day humanitarian parole by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to attend Heydi’s funeral in New York on Tuesday.

“She was a normal kid, happy and mischievous. … She was very smart,” Jessica Gámez told CNN. “I tried to give Heydi all she needed, but her only dream was to be with her father.”

If this news is hard for you, you’re not alone. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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Header image via Facebook.