Ana Gloria Henríquez in her house in Armenia, El Salvador. Henríquez is the grandmother of Allison Ximena Valencia Madrid and mother of Cindy Madrid. The photos in the background are of Ximena, who is separated from her mother in the United States. (Fred Ramos for The Washington Post)

ARMENIA, El Salvador — Ana Gloria Henríquez instantly recognized her granddaughter’s sobs.

The 6-year-old girl who was pleading with Border Patrol officials for her mother, begging for her aunt — on the excruciating audio published by ProPublica that helped galvanize opposition to family separations — had set out just weeks before from this village in the rolling foothills of western El Salvador, leaving behind her grandmother and the family mutt, Cookie.

The girl, Allison Ximena Valencia Madrid, who goes by Ximena, was traveling toward Houston with her mother, Cindy Madrid, on a path well worn by this family. Cindy was the last of Henríquez’s three daughters to migrate in the past dozen years, a decision that many here consider the only viable way to avoid poverty and gangs. Two sisters had made it; earlier this month, Cindy and Ximena got caught.

“We’ve never had any problem until this law that Mr. Trump made,” said Henríquez, 58.

Since Monday, when the audio became public and Ximena was identified by ProPublica as one of the miserable children, Henríquez has been living a nightmare, unsure exactly where her daughter and granddaughter are being held and how they might be reunited. Sleep comes with difficulty. She relies on medication to numb a new twitching in her jaw. Two gang members stand as spotters on the end of her block, smoking cigarettes, crosses around their necks, but her fears are much farther north.

“Until you live this firsthand, you really can’t know the pain,” she said.


At home in El Salvador on June 21, 2018, Henríquez shows a picture of Ximena with her dog, Cookie. (Fred Ramos for The Washington Post)

Trump's executive order may have ended such family separations this week, but the misery endures for the relatives of the parents and children who still have not been reunited. Henríquez remembered how Ximena had cried when she was dropped off on the first day of kindergarten and said she can’t imagine the depth of the girl's terror now, after she was taken from her mother.

If there is relief for Henríquez, it is that the town has rallied behind her, with residents sending text messages of support and telling her not to lose faith. The Catholic church facing the town plaza will hold a Mass on Friday so residents can pray together that Cindy and Ximena find each other and find a safe home.

Henríquez lives in a yellow two-story rented house here in the state of Sonsonate amid mementos of Cindy and Ximena. Henríquez painted an entire dining room wall with a family tree, decorated with butterflies and different branches for her grandchildren. Ximena is wearing a white dress in her photo, a gift from one of her aunts in Houston.

That’s how Henríquez gets by, on what her daughters can send home from the United States.

“They help me with what they can, but they have their own expenses, so what they can send is minimal, enough to subsist,” Henríquez said.


The house where Ximena Valencia Madrid and her mother lived in Armenia, El Salvador. (Fred Ramos for The Washington Post)

Her home faces a baseball field. When Cindy still lived here, she and Henríquez sold smoothies and soda to the fans, enough for pocket money. On two occasions, Henríquez said, Cindy had been robbed by gang members who boarded her bus and shook down the passengers. With Ximena starting school, her mother wanted more for her.

“Living in this danger, she decided to leave, just to help her daughter,” Henríquez said.

Ximena used to sleep in a second-floor bedroom she shared with her mother, under a row of plastic Disney princesses, on a pillowcase from the movie Frozen — more gifts from the United States. She loves animals, enjoys the beach, and was a happy, energetic girl, her relatives say.

Now Henríquez imagines her granddaughter in a shelter, not knowing where her mother might be.

“I want them to have an opportunity to be together,” she said. “And if they’re going to charge them, I want them to be held together.”


Skates belonging to Ximena at home in El Salvador. (Fred Ramos for The Washington Post)