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The four children of a deported Owensboro man are reunited with their father at the arrivals gate in Veracruz, Mexico. Jessie Higgins

VERACRUZ, Mexico – As his four children were boarding their first plane in Indianapolis Thursday morning, Antonio Cuahua paced the floors of his small Mexican home.

“Three months, I don’t see my kids,” he said quietly, his eyes full of tears. “I miss them a lot since I left them. I was giving ‘good nights’ every night. These past three months is not the same. It’s not the same.”

Antonio’s voice trailed off. The last time he saw his children was the morning he was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers near his home in Owensboro, Kentucky.

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More: The children of a deported Owensboro man must immigrate to Mexico or enter foster care

Antonio immigrated illegally to the United States when he was 16. Now 33, he lived and worked in Kentucky for 17 years. He was also the sole caregiver for his American-born children there.

After he was deported, his children had few options – immigrate to Mexico or enter American foster care. Neither Antonio nor his friends and family in Owensboro had money to pay for the children’s immigration process until a story about the family’s situation appeared on courierpress.com, prompting dozens of people to donate money so the family could be reunited.

Thursday morning, the children began their journey to Mexico.

More: Children of deported Owensboro man moving to Mexico

“Tonight I’m going to see them again,” Antonio said, with a nervous laugh. His voice was full of impatience. “I’m ready to see them.”

Antonio and his family spent the last two weeks preparing for the children’s arrival.

The family lives together in a small grouping of cement and cinder block structures on the side of a mountain several hours inland from Mexico’s Gulf coast. They built the homes by themselves. In one structure is a kitchen, where they cook over an open wood fire. In another is a large cement washbasin the family shares.

Antonio lives just up the hill from his brother’s family in a three-room building. The simple home is adorned with streamers and flowers. In the children’s bedroom are two perfectly-made beds, one with a blue blanket, the other with pink.

“This is where I’ll have my kids,” Antonio said, gazing around his house. “They’ll be here.”

Thursday afternoon, Antonio and his two brothers and an uncle loaded their truck and made their way down the mountain and to the International Airport in Veracruz.

They arrived early and paced about the airport’s arrival area until finally seeing the children’s flight on the arrival board.

“They’ve landed,” Antonio cried out, hurrying forward.

One by one, passengers walked by. Then, from around the corner, Antonio’s oldest daughter Cecily, 10, appeared.

“It’s Daddy!” his youngest son, Enrique, 5, screamed.

“Daddy! Daddy, I missed you,” his daughter Marrissiah, 6, cried.

Cecily passed through the gate first. She stared, open-mouthed, at her father for a moment, then began to sob as Antonio pulled her quickly into his arms.

His oldest son, Anthony, 8, grabbed them both, then Marrissiah and Enrique.

Tears streamed down Antonio’s face as he spread his arms as wide as he could to hold them all.

Antonio took his children home. The Courier & Press is following the children this weekend as they begin the transition to their new home.

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