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In Central America, parents deported from US vow to return for children

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A little shoe that belongs to his baby girl hangs from the backpack of Honduran immigrant Ever Sierra, 28, who was deported from the US and arrived in San Pedro Sula, 200 kilometres north of Tegucigalpa on June 22, 2018

When Ever Sierra arrived back in his native Honduras, deported after trying to enter the US, his eight-month-old daughter's shoes were hanging from his backpack.

She was being held in a detention center in McAllen, Texas, along with her mother.

Sierra planned to try again in a few days.

"On Sunday or Monday I'm going back," the 28-year-old mason told AFP. "I want to be with my family."

Sierra had left the northern city of El Progreso on January 2 to pursue the American dream. With him were his wife, Iris Janeth, 26, and their daughter, then only two months old.

"It's about looking for a better future for our family," said the young man. Here, with 250 or 300 lempiras ($10 to $12) a day, you can't do anything."

A month after their departure, on February 3, while crossing the Piedras Negras River near the Mexican border, a US immigration patrol arrested them. They were accompanied by Sierra's brother, Juan Carlos, his wife and their five-year-old son.

- Family scattered -

According to Sierra, Iris Janeth and their daughter were taken to a juvenile detention center in McAllen; his sister-in-law was taken to a center in Miami, Florida; his brother was sent to the LaSalle detention center in Texas; while he was sent to a center in neighboring Louisiana.

The separation of families trying to cross the border -- the result of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy for undocumented migrants -- has led to more than 2,300 children being taken from their parents' custody.

The approach has generated such widespread outrage that Trump on Wednesday reversed course, ordering an end to the separations.

Sierra, a thin man of light complexion and sparse hair, arrived Friday on one of two flights bringing deportees from Louisiana to San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city of Honduras, 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the capital. The first flight carried 118 people, the second, 120.

"They brought us chained by the feet, hands and waist," complained Jose Miguel Sagotizado, a 32-year-old deportee. "They didn't take off our chains even to go to the bathroom."

"Trump is a racist," said Sagotizado, a solidly built man, his eyes flashing. "He's got the whole world against him."

- 'A great sadness' -

Meantime, at the Guatemala City airport, an additional 108 deportees arrived, greeted by blaring marimba music piped in over loudspeakers to cheer them up.

One of them, Benjamin Raymundo, 33, left his indigenous Q'anjob'al-speaking community in western Guatemala in April with his five-year-old son Roberto.

He told AFP that the grinding poverty in his region coupled with a deep desire to provide a better life for his family had led him to make his second attempt to enter the US.

Leaving behind his wife Rosalia and their two-year-old daughter, he and Roberto set out. They crossed Mexico by bus and managed to reach the US border but were stopped by immigration officers in California.

Raymundo was separated from his son, who he learned only later had been taken to New York. A brother-in-law who lives in the US and a lawyer managed to find the child's whereabouts and the boy was eventually placed in this relative's custody.

"It's a great sadness for me, as if I'll never see my son again," he lamented. Raymundo said he has no plans for now to return to the United States. He hopes his son will be granted asylum.

- 'I don't know how' -

A 40-year-old Guatemalan woman, who declined to give her name, said she had spent 10 months in detention in an Arizona center.

The woman, on crutches after recent foot surgery, said she had migrated to the United States in 2004. Two years ago her 14-year-old son arrived alone.

But when the woman was deported, another son, who is 22 and also has no papers, was left in charge of her younger son and of a three-year-old daughter who has US citizenship.

Though the situation for migrants to the US is "more difficult" than before, she said, she plans to go back to rejoin her family.

"I plan to return for my children," she said. "I don't know how, but I plan to return."