Among the parents of more than 2,300 separated migrant children, three Central American parents sued the U.S. government over its policy of family separations Wednesday, the day U.S. President Donald Trump, under intense public pressure, ordered an end to the practice.
But three days later, their situation had not changed and they’re “desperate” for information about the whereabouts and well-being of their children, their lawyer said.
“Our clients are being held in detention facilities with no access to information about their children,” said Jerome Wesevich, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Brownsville, Texas. “The government has some procedures in place for supplying information. So far those have been entirely inadequate.”
The administration says it is forging ahead with plans to reunite the parents with the thousands of children separated since early May when officials announced a “zero tolerance policy” on illegal entry into the United States.
Some families reunited
Late Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it had reunited about 500 families, saying “all unaccompanied children in their custody” had been reunited with their families.
But the status of many more transferred out of CBP custody remains uncertain. Wesevich said the uncertainty has left the migrant parents in the dark.
“I’d say there is not a lot of optimism,” Wesevich said. “The president’s announcement is not very understandable about what it’s going to mean in practical terms.”
Meanwhile, legal assistance organizations are trying to locate migrant families caught up in the confusion and chaos that followed Trump’s order.
The Texas Civil Rights Project, an advocacy organization based in Austin, Texas, is leading one of the largest reunification efforts in the state, seeking to reunite as many as 381 immigrants who have been separated from their children.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid said it would continue its efforts on behalf of the three Central American parents as it awaits clarity about how the government intends to reunite the separated families.
“The point of our lawsuit (is) that they do it as compassionately and quickly as possible,” Wesevich said. “By compassionate, I mean the parents are provided with information on where their children are, how they’re being cared for.”
Short phone calls
Wesevich said one parent, a father from Guatemala, “does not know where (his daughter) is at all.”
A second parent, a Honduran mother of a 9-year-old son, has told the nonprofit that she believes her son has been moved to New York.
“She does not know where he is, except she believes that he is in New York while she is detained in El Paso, Texas,” according to court papers.
Since their separation, the mother has been allowed to speak with her son three times for about five minutes each time, according to court filings.
“He only asks when we will see each other again and begs to be with me,” the mother is quoted as saying in court documents.
“He is scared and lonely and desperate to be with me. I try to tell him everything will be OK and that I’ll see him soon but, the truth is, I don’t know what will happen with us.”
The third parent, a Guatemalan mother of three sons, ages 2, 6 and 13, has been allowed to speak with them for 10 minutes two times each week.
“Of course her 2-year-old is unable to provide reliable information about his circumstances, and staff provide only general information to [her], nothing specific about her children’s well-being, which causes her anguish,” according to court papers.
The plaintiffs are seeking “frequent and meaningful access to or communication” with their children.
The lawsuit, citing medical experts and court rulings, alleges that “forced separation traumatizes parents and children, and this trauma is compounded when parents and children are denied basic information about each other’s well-being and reunification prospects.” (VOA)