‘It’s All We Could Do: Cry’: A Honduran Mother and Daughter Describe Their Separation Under U.S. ‘Zero Tolerance’ Immigration Policy

December 6, 2022

When Anavelis and her 6-year-old daughter, Genesis, arrived in the United States from Honduras in 2018, they hoped for a better life ahead.

Instead, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the duo became one of thousands of families separated under the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including “zero tolerance.”

“When they took the child from me, the other officials said, ‘We don’t allow crybabies here,’” Anavelis says in the above excerpt from the new FRONTLINE documentary After Zero Tolerance. “You want a mother to be happy after having her child taken away? And I said I didn’t want to cry, but it’s normal. It’s all we could do: cry.”

In what she describes as “a nightmare that has been tormenting me all these years,” Anavelis was sent back to Honduras, without her young daughter.

Three years later, while many separated families had been reunited, Genesis was one of hundreds of children still in the U.S., waiting for their parents to be allowed to return.

“They didn’t tell me they were going to send her to Honduras,” Genesis tells After Zero Tolerance’s writer, director and producer, Oscar Guerra, about being separated from her mother in the above scene. “They only told me that she had to go somewhere. … I was 6 years old.”

The documentary telling the family’s story — which was made with production support from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and University of Connecticut’s Human Rights Institute, Department of Digital Media and Design, and Office of Global Affairs — premieres Tuesday, Dec. 6 in a two-part FRONTLINE hour that begins with another short-form documentary, Crime Scene: Bucha.

In addition to chronicling Anavelis’ and Genesis’ years-long quest to reunite, After Zero Tolerance explores the work of a Biden administration task force charged with rejoining separated families.

“This really is an unprecedented operation,” Michelle Brané, the head of the task force, says in the documentary, “going back and really looking for the people involved and reunifying those families, in order to provide them with the ability to be together and work forward from the harm that was inflicted.”

For the full story, watch FRONTLINE’s hour-long broadcast on Tuesday, Dec. 6, featuring two segments: Crime Scene: Bucha and After Zero Tolerance. Both will be available to watch in full at pbs.org/frontline and in the PBS Video App starting that night at 7/6c. The two-part hour will premiere on PBS stations (check local listings) and on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel at 10/9c. After Zero Tolerance is a FRONTLINE production with Five O’Clock Films in association with Guerra Productions, Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and University of Connecticut. The writer, producer and director is Oscar Guerra. The senior producer is Frank Koughan.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Senior Digital Writer, FRONTLINE



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