Type to search


A Defendant Shows Up in Immigration Court by Himself. He’s 6.

Wilder Hilario Maldonado Cabrera was the youngest defendant on the juvenile docket that day, and he was one of the last children left in government custody who had been affected by the zero-tolerance policy.

(ProPublica) It was shortly before Thanksgiving in an immigration court in San Antonio, and the third defendant to come before Judge Anibal Martinez walked into the courtroom without an attorney, wearing a gray winter hat that was stitched with a pair of blue googly eyes and a floppy red yarn mohawk.

When the bailiff asked his name, he piped up proudly: Wilder Hilario Maldonado Cabrera.

“How old is Wilder?” the immigration judge asked.

An attorney, who was there with other clients, came forward and volunteered to stand in for Wilder. She turned to the boy and in Spanish asked his age.

“Seis años,” he said, 6, his legs dangling from a chair at the defendant’s table.

Wilder, a smiley, pudgy Salvadoran boy, missing his two front teeth, was the youngest defendant on the juvenile docket that day. But that wasn’t all that made him special. He was one of the last children left in government custody who had been affected by the administration’s widely criticized zero-tolerance policy, and who were still awaiting reunification with parents detained in the United States.

The policy, which was announced with great fanfare in April and was scuttled two months later in the face of bipartisan opposition, required immigration authorities to file criminal charges against anyone caught crossing the border illegally and separate them from the children they brought with them.

Over 2,600 immigrant children — including more than 100 who were under the age of 5 — were separated from their parents before a federal judge ordered the administration to end the policy and reunite the families affected. Most have been reunited with parents or other relatives. Around 120 children remain in federal custody because their parents had already been deported. Some 30 cases involve children whose parents have criminal histories. As immigration authorities and advocates scrambled to put the broken families back together, courtrooms like Martinez’s often felt more like family court.

On the day that Wilder appeared, the courtroom was full of minors, most of them teenagers who had not been separated from parents at the border but had migrated to the United States on their own. The boys, wearing pressed slacks and button-down shirts, sat in the back. And there were three very pregnant girls, one of them complaining of pain, in the front.

“I hear we have a child with medical issues?” Martinez said, peering down at her from his dais. “If she’s not comfortable or if she needs to step outside at all, that’s fine.”

One of the first children to be summoned before Martinez was an 11-year-old Guatemalan girl, wearing a flowered dress with her hair tied in a ponytail high on her head.

She sat in a black leather chair and barely said a word, as her attorney, Monica Cueva Kretzschmar, explained that she had admitted to illegally crossing the border and wanted to be sent home to Guatemala to her parents (hers was not a family separation case). The judge asked whether the girl had made the decision of her own free will. She had, the lawyer said. Did her return pose any risks of harm or danger, he asked? The lawyer said no.

Then the judge looked at the girl. “I understand you want to return to your parents in Guatemala,” he said. She nodded back. “I just granted that request. I wish you all the best.”

The girl got up from her seat, grinning and waving a thumbs-up at the attorneys in the audience.

Then it was Wilder’s turn.

The judge asked about the boy’s father. Was he still detained?

The prosecutor said he didn’t know.

He was, in fact, still in federal custody at an immigration detention facility less than an hour’s drive away from the court. The boy and his father had been separated on June 6, after they illegally crossed the border and asked for asylum. Wilder was placed into temporary foster care. His father, Hilario Maldonado, was sent to detention. They’d only sporadically been able to speak on the telephone ever since.

Authorities had determined soon after Maldonado entered the country that he did not qualify for asylum, but they refused to reunite him with his son while that decision was appealed because Maldonado, who lived in the United States more than a decade ago, had an old warrant for a DUI in Florida. It’s a charge that would almost never result in a loss of parental custody in a non-immigration context, but immigration lawyers say they have seen immigration authorities use such minor, nonviolent criminal records to justify separating immigrant parents from their children at the border. Government officials say that while a federal court ordered them to stop separating children under zero tolerance, it exempted cases involving parents who posed security risks to their child.

Meanwhile, Wilder’s mother, Maria Elida Cabrera, was still back in El Salvador, struggling for the first time to feed Wilder’s three siblings on her own. She said by phone that Maldonado was the family breadwinner, and since his detention she and her children were surviving with help from immigrant advocacy groups in the United States who’d heard about Wilder’s case.

None of them knew when and if they’d be together again — least of all little Wilder. Born in a remote mountain village at the northern edge of El Salvador, he barely knew what to make of the metal detector at the courthouse, much less why he was in court in the first place.

Before entering the courtroom, the bailiff had to gently nudge the boy through the machine, because he froze in fright at the blinking lights on its side. “No seas nervioso,” she told him, don’t be nervous.

The attorney helped Wilder put on his headphones, so he could hear the court translator, as if language was the only barrier to his ability to follow the whirlwind proceedings.

Then she asked the judge to set aside any decisions about the boy’s asylum claim until Wilder’s lawyer could arrange to be in court with him. The judge agreed.

“Wilder, I wish you well,” he said, sending the boy off to uncertainty. “We’ll see you soon.”

Wilder, a huge Spider-Man fan, waved at the judge, then pretended he was shooting spiderwebs from his wrists. On his way out, he waved to the friendly bailiff and said, “Bye policía.”

This story first appeared on ProPublica.org. Reprinted with permission.


Guest Post

Citizen Truth republishes articles with permission from a variety of news sites, advocacy organizations and watchdog groups. We choose articles we think will be informative and of interest to our readers. Chosen articles sometimes contain a mixture of opinion and news, any such opinions are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Citizen Truth.

You Might also Like


  1. George House November 30, 2018

    This is what has become with a Clown like Dumpy in office and the GOP sucking up to him for their own greed.. The Tide will turn in January and the fool’s WILL Pay

  2. Karen Jeffries Wells November 30, 2018

    Just so very sad. Blessings for this little one.

  3. Gary Fuller November 30, 2018

    That’s a damn shame trump where are his parents ?

    1. Manny Raneri November 30, 2018

      I wonder too. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

  4. Linda Fannon November 30, 2018

    America (wh) caused this. Crazy!

  5. Jamie Shiller November 30, 2018

    We have a hateful sob in the wh and his cronies are just as bad!!! They worship $$$ only!

    1. Robert Bayne November 30, 2018

      Jamie Shiller bs, love your hate speech.

    2. Andrea K Arnette November 30, 2018

  6. Will Washburn November 30, 2018

    How utterly humiliating to this country. How vile and indecent have we become????

  7. Diane Bailey Paules November 30, 2018

    Unbelievable and cruel.

  8. Jim Schmelter November 30, 2018

    Blame the parents!

  9. Ersie Thomas November 30, 2018

    Can’t believe this country has become so cruel following the vile squatter in chief’s illegal orders! Shameful!!

  10. William Milam November 30, 2018

    Because of the ignorant bastard

  11. Robert C Krowka November 30, 2018

    Only a country devoid of compassion does this to children. I`m embarrassed and ashamed of what trump and the republicans have done to America. The world is watching !

  12. Jon Stensrud November 30, 2018

    Yea it’s trumps fault his parents dragged the kid here…… This kid has more personal responsibility than most liberal democrats I’ve met.

  13. Nina Zarocostas November 30, 2018

    Its a DISGRACE. Non HUMANITARIAN. I HOPE trump will get is Carma .MUELLER will take care THAT. ?

  14. Patricia Macdade Ribavaro November 30, 2018

    Bull SHIT! Sheep believe anything!! Wow!?

  15. Brenda Mc Intosh November 30, 2018

    Ludicrous…makes absolutely no sense.

  16. Sue Shain November 30, 2018


  17. Diane Derr November 30, 2018

    So unnecessary

  18. Ralph Solonitz November 30, 2018

    Trump did this.

  19. Victor Lopez December 1, 2018

    The republiKKKans, have hit rock-bottom.

    1. Fred Surowiec December 1, 2018

      Victor Lopez The KKK was a Democrat organization. You are so very delusional. I feel sorry for you.

    2. Fred Surowiec December 1, 2018

      Victor Lopez The KKK was a Democrat organization. You are so very delusional. I feel sorry for you.

    3. Victor Lopez December 1, 2018

      Fred Surowiec
      No one asked you for a history lesson.
      The republiKKKans are affiliated to “them”. Open your eyes to reality. With your eyes wide open… your mind is totally blind.

  20. Ed Eichner December 1, 2018

    This is not accurate there are still over 10,000 in a tent prison but trump administration

  21. Gwendolyn Armour December 1, 2018

    A damn shame!

  22. Michael Daveiga December 1, 2018

    Let the caravan pass !

  23. Gustavo Paredes December 2, 2018

    How in the fuck is that possible

  24. Mary Sue Driver December 2, 2018

    What the hell has happened to us as a country??????????

  25. Michelle Cox December 3, 2018

    I love those comments that say this is the parents fault. You know the parents are doing something that every parent in the world would do including us. If the situation at home was worse, they would leave. They’re trying to leave a worse situation than us! This isn’t bad parenting. This is parents being superheroes. But it does show the character of us when we condemn them, take away their children and send them to prison.

  26. Michelle Cox December 3, 2018

    Oh…and a wonder happy holiday to you all…ever wonder what these kids might like for Christmas? How about there parents? How about a safe place to life with said parents? How about a place that is safe from prosecution? Just a couple of thoughts.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *