Last year, major news agencies headlined the move of U.S. authorities where migrant parents were separated and deported without their children after Trump implemented a “zero tolerance” policy. Last Saturday, a group of 29 parents who were wrested from their children and deported at the height of the family separation crisis last year have been allowed to cross back into the US and seek asylum, in an attempt to reunite with their loved ones.

Visibly nervous parents crossed the pedestrian bridge, some with children and carrying luggage, a witness said. They were accompanied by lawyers from immigration advocacy group Al Otro Lado, which means “On the other side.” Al Otro Lado had received more than a million dollars in financial assistance from organizations such as Families Belong Together and Together Rising, which mounted fundraising campaigns in the midst of the government’s separation policy.

A witness stated that the group entered the United States at the international border crossing from Mexicali, Mexico, into Calexico, California, where they were met by agents from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). When they arrived, the group was initially told by CBP they were at capacity and could not process these parents, according to the migrants’ attorneys.

But after a 10-hour wait, during which volunteers brought stacks of pizzas, toys and coloring books for the children, CBP agents notified the group that they should gather their belongings in order to be processed. The families quickly followed the request, taking off belts and jewelry and pulling out all their documents to have them ready to present to officials.

The plight of the parents and their missing children is an indication that the family separation crisis that erupted last summer is continuing to have ramifications for hundreds of people.

A Family Divided

In a bid to criminally prosecute and jail illegal border crossers, Trump administration implemented the “zero tolerance” policy which was heavily enforced last 2018. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 2,700 children were separated from their families along the border last year. About 430 of the parents were deported without their children, some of whom were later sent to foster homes.  In some of those cases, parents later made the painful decision to leave their children in the United States, typically with relatives, rather than bringing them back to the violence and poverty from which the families fled. At least 200 of them remain separated today. This proves to be challenging because more often than not, the government lost track of which child belonged to which parent, and it did not link their immigration cases, sending parents back to Central America without telling them where their children were.  In other cases, the U.S. government determined that the parents were unfit to receive their children, often based on their criminal records. Some waited in the hope that U.S. courts would allow them to return to the United States. Others paid smugglers to get them back to the border.

A Glimmer of Hope

Over the past three weeks, the parents stayed in a Tijuana hotel, sharing rooms and preparing for asylum hearings. They showed one another documents that their children had sent them: photos of foster families and report cards from Southwest Key, a company that runs shelters for migrant children.

Then came Saturday’s march at the border.

The group of parents walked toward the Mexicali/Tijuana border, flanked by local religious officials, and then waited at the entrance to the United States as the lawyers negotiated with U.S. officials. The parents sat on wooden benches, surrounded by their luggage, while officials decided how many of the parents to allow into the country.

And on that fateful weekend, the migrant families, along with a team of lawyers and volunteers, hugged and cried as they officially entered the United States.

Beyond the joy of crossing the border, the parents must now wait.

“This is a huge victory for these families, but this fight isn’t over until they’re reunited with their kids,” said lawyer Erika Pinheiro, the litigation and policy director for Al Otro Lado. “These parents are now going into the black hole of CBP custody. Some could be separated again. Some could go into ICE custody.

“But, we hope that CBP and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] do the right thing and immediately release these parents and reunite them with their kids,” she added. “If they don’t, we’re ready to keep fighting for these families.”

If you or someone you know is in need of an experienced immigration lawyer in  New Jersey, please do not hesitate to call us at Andres Mejer Law. We understand immigration problems and will work to find the solution that is best for you.