Nine par­ents sep­a­rated from fam­i­lies re­turn to chil­dren

Antelope Valley Press - - NEWS - By NO­MAAN MER­CHANT and EL­LIOT SP­A­GAT

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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