It was an agonizing 36 or so hours for Ever Alexander Morejon Gonzalez and his 7-year-old boy.
Caught after being smuggled across the Rio Grande into Texas, the father and son from El Salvador were separated by the US government.
But on Tuesday, after being reunited over the weekend following a day and a half apart, they held hands like they would never let go again and boarded a bus from McAllen, Texas, to Florida, where they will stay with a friend who is a US citizen while Gonzalez awaits a date in immigration court.
The 38-year-old fisherman from a village in El Salvador said he was terrified when authorities separated him from Emerson Alexander.
He thought, “Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into? I’m losing my freedom and my child.”
Gonzalez said he was unaware when he and Alexander left their home in El Coyol, El Salvador, on May 16 that the Trump administration had enacted a “zero tolerance” policy on people who entered the US illegally. He said they fled his homeland to escape the daily threats of violence from gangs.
“Had I known I would not have risked my son’s life,” he said. “I would have stayed in my country.”
He said he learned he was being separated from his son when he was being taken to the detention center. He feared he had lost his son.
Officials there asked him if knew the rules about coming to the States, he said.
Gonzalez believes he was released from detention because he has no criminal record and this was the first time he had tried to illegally enter the United States.
CNN reached out to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for comment and was told to contact Customs and Border Protection. When CNN called Border Protection it was told to call ICE.
Alexander told CNN he was kept in a facility with other children of various ages. He said he didn’t cry but there was at least one other who did while they waited for food.
He ran to hug his dad when they were reunited and told him he loves him.
Gonzalez, who used $6,000 of what little money he had to pay a smuggler to bring him and his boy to the United States, will plead his case for asylum with an immigration judge. He was not charged with illegal entry.
The father and son were thrilled to be hopping on a bus for the 24-hour trip to Florida, despite the uncertainty of their future.
Their tickets were paid for by the humanitarian respite center run by Catholic Charities, whose volunteers housed and fed them after they were released, and sent them on their way with bags full of snacks.
The father and son also hope to one day be reunited with Gonzalez’s girlfriend and younger son – who had to stay behind in El Salvador – in the the safety of the United States.
Gonzalez has to wear an ankle monitor and said he would be at his hearings. He wants his son to have a better life than the one of poverty and constant recruitment from the thugs back home.
“I’m hoping that things go well, so my son can study and be removed from the gang threat in my country,” he said.
CNN’s Steve Almasy and Angela Barajas contributed to this report.