Nine parents separated from families return to children
LOS ANGELES — As his long-lost son walked toward him in an airport terminal, a sobbing David Xol stretched out his arms, fell to one knee and embraced the boy for about three minutes, crying into his shoulder.
He had not held the child since May 2018, when border agents pulled then-7-year-old Byron away inside a detention facility. They were separated under President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy — the father deported to Guatemala, the son placed in a series of government facilities before ending up with a host family in Texas.
Xol was one of nine parents who won the exceedingly rare chance to return to the U.S. after being deported under family separation. They arrived Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport to be reunited with children they hadn’t seen in a year and a half or longer under the order of a federal judge who found the U.S. government had unlawfully prevented them from seeking asylum.
After embracing, David stood and patted Byron, now 9, on the head. “He was small,” the father said. “He grew a lot.”
The reunion was a powerful reminder of the lasting effects of Trump’s separation policy, even as attention and outrage has faded amid impeachment proceedings and tensions with Iran. But it also underscored the fact that hundreds, potentially thousands, of other parents and children are still apart nearly two years after the zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized border crossings took effect.
“They all kind of hit the lottery,” said Linda Dakin-Grimm, an attorney who represents one of the parents returning to the U.S. “There are so many people out there who have been traumatized by the family separation policy whose pain is not going to be redressed.”
More than 4,000 children are known to have been separated from their parents before and during the official start of zero tolerance in spring 2018. Under the policy, border agents charged parents en masse with illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, then placed their children in government facilities. The policy drew condemnation from around the world as stories emerged almost daily about screaming children, some as young as babies, forcibly taken away from parents.
In June 2018, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to stop separating families and reunite parents and children.
The U.S. has acknowledged that agents separated families long before they enforced zero tolerance across the entire southern border, its agencies did not properly record separations, and some detention centers were overcrowded and undersupplied, with families denied food, water or medical care.
At least 470 parents were deported without their children, in many cases because they were told to sign paperwork they couldn’t read or understand. Some of the kids were held in U.S. government facilities and ultimately placed with sponsors, usually family members. Others were deported to their home countries.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, which did not respond.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the original family separation lawsuit before Sabraw, asked the judge to order the return of a small group of parents whose children remained in the U.S. In September, Sabraw required the U.S. to allow 11 parents to come back and denied relief to seven others.
David Xol-Cholom, of Guatemala hugs his son Byron at Los Angeles International Airport as they reunite Wednesday after being separated about one and half year ago during the Trump administration’s wide-scale separation of immigrant families.