LA JOYA, Texas – Marely had traveled with her mother from Central America to the busiest illegal border crossing corridor between the US and Mexico for 13 days. When the 12-year-old Salvadoran girl got on an inflatable raft in the middle of the night to cross the Rio Grande in Texas, she found that her mother was not coming with her.

Her mother told her that she loved her very much just before the boat was pushed into the water.

“I thought she hit it off, but she hadn’t,” Marely told The Associated Press this week, tears streaming down her cheeks.

But she didn’t scream or ask the smugglers to go back and get her mother.

“I knew she was on the other side. There was no turning back. They told us to run to keep going, ”said Marely, who threw herself up to border guards in La Joya, Texas.

The AP does not use the girl’s last name. Usually children are not named without their parents ‘permission and their parents’ identity has not been established.

More and more migrant families are making the heartbreaking decision to separate from their children and send them to America alone. Many families with children over the age of 6 have been quickly evicted from the country under federal pandemic powers that do not allow migrants to seek asylum. But they do know that President Joe Biden’s administration allows unaccompanied children to stay in the US while their cases are being resolved.

They are driven from the country and send their older children back like Marely to cross alone. This self-separation means that children come to the US confused and in need. Many have traveled hundreds of kilometers with their parents without understanding why they cannot cross the last stretch together.

Arriving in the US, Marely joined two teenagers traveling without their parents and a larger group of families fleeing poverty, storm destruction and violence in their home countries. The girl was walking for two hours from a village south of San Salvador when a thunderstorm brewed over her in Texas’ vast Rio Grande Valley, a busy stretch of river crossing.

Marely’s mother made her memorize the full name and number of her grandmother in Washington, DC, who informed the AP that she was expecting to see her granddaughter.

As more and more families decide to send their children alone, Minister of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has been pressured by lawmakers on the possibility that deportations could be a “new source of family separation”. What follows is widespread outrage over former President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy, which has forced apart families on the border, some of which have not yet been reunited.

Mayorkas has defended rapid family evictions, saying they protect both the American public and migrants. He said officials “anecdotally” hears of families separating themselves, adding that approximately 40% of unaccompanied children in the US have parents or guardians and 50% other relatives who move on after they are released from government they can take care of custody.

April was the second biggest month for unaccompanied children on the border – 17,171 stopped – after March’s all-time high of 18,960, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This week, border guards found five unaccompanied migrant women, ages 7-11 months, near the border town of Eagle Pass, Texas.

Late Wednesday, agents in La Joya, Texas, about four hundred miles south, came across an 8-year-old Honduran girl named Emely who had been walking in the bush with a group of strangers for six hours and lost a shoe in the mud. She sobbed uncontrollably because she lost her mother’s number, which she said was waiting in the United States and did not know where she lived.

Emely had lost sight of a fellow migrant who had her contact information, but the mother saw an AP photo of her arrival on the Spanish language broadcast Univision and contacted the network.

In a camp in the Mexican border town of Reynosa, near Marely’s Last Mother’s Day, the number of displaced migrant families is growing. And they make desperate decisions.

Jose Rodriguez, 41, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, lived with a group of Hondurans under a gray tarpaulin, but has not been able to sleep since he took his 8-year-old son to a distant cousin in mid-April to take the river to Roma, Texas, cross.

Rodriguez had tried to cross the border with his son Jordyn, but the two were expelled in early March. They had no money and no way to go home.

“As a parent, it’s very difficult. I don’t wish that to anyone. There are people who ask me if I sent my son. “Yes,” I tell them, “but don’t,” said Rodriguez. “You have to have a lot of faith and hold on to God in order not to fall apart. If you are weak you can pass out, and if you have heart disease you can die. It is very difficult.”

His wife, who was left with her 1-year-old in Honduras, initially refused to send Jordyn across the border alone, but Rodriguez convinced her. He told her that her life in Honduras was only going to get worse as the gang threat and economy were badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic and two tropical storms.

To pay the smuggling fees for his son’s solo attempt, Rodriguez washed dishes at a taco stand near the camp for a month and a half. It also took some persuasion to get Jordyn to go.

“You have to go on. They’ll have the best clothes, the best computer and tennis shoes, and toy cars that light up, ”Rodriguez said to his son as they said goodbye.

Rodriguez said he walked around the square for four days, stopping every few steps to cry until he received an audio message from a cousin in the United States whose number he wrote on Jordyn’s birth certificate.

“I have good news for you. You have the boy in a home for children his age,” said the cousin.

Social workers now call Rodriguez twice a week from a Chicago animal shelter to see if there is someone Jordyn can stay with in the US. Relatives said they couldn’t take care of Jordyn because they were new immigrants too and had their own children to support.

“To this day I am not sleeping. The food doesn’t taste like anything because I think about it every moment, ”said Rodriguez. “What I want is to be with him.”