On a Tuesday in January, four years after US authorities snatched Maria Hernandez from her daughters and sent her back to Honduras, she returned to the United States – this time with the blessing of the US government.
At Los Angeles International Airport, Nicole, now 7, greeted her mother with a single red rose. Near-teen Michelle was hanging out with a bouquet of roses and sunflowers. When Hernandez turned to her, Michelle rushed into his embrace, sobbing. “I was away but I was still thinking of you,” Hernandez whispered to his daughters.
Hernandez had last held Nicole when she was 3 years old; Michelle was 8 years old. Days after Christmas in 2017, the mother clung to her crying daughters at an Arizona Border Patrol station before a US official separated them, Hernandez said. The trio had entered the United States seeking asylum. Once apprehended, Hernandez said, she was given an impossible choice: leave the country, either with the girls or without them. Shaken by Michelle’s recent threats from Honduran gangs, Hernandez decided the girls would be safer in the United States, she said.
The sisters were sent to a children’s shelter in California and eventually released to live with their brother Maynor, now 34, who makes a living selling oranges in Los Angeles. Hernandez was deported, one of thousands of parents separated from their children under President Donald Trump’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy to deter illegal immigration. Reuters, which has been tracking the family since mid-2020, refers to the girls by their middle names to protect their privacy. Over the years, Hernandez has attempted to bridge the 2,800 mile (4,500 km) gap between them with near-daily video calls https://www.Reuters.com/world/americas/separated-her-daughters- us-honduran-mom-parents-her-smartphone-2021-06-28 studying their faces on a smartphone screen and listening to their stories. Nicole said she lost a tooth; Michelle confessed her crushes.
On her first night in the United States, Hernandez shared a bed with her daughters, watching them as they slept and marveling at how much they had grown. “So many years without seeing them,” she told Reuters this month, her voice shaking from crying. “They are so big now.”
‘A HUMAN TRAGEDY’ The Trump administration has argued that allowing families to be released together in the United States while seeking asylum only encourages illegal immigration. In response, the administration sought to prosecute and deport parents like Hernandez and place their children in United States custody as “unaccompanied minors.”
But the traumatic family separations, which began in 2017 before any official announcement, were picked up in media around the world and caused an international outcry. Trump, a Republican, reversed course with an executive order ending the practice in June 2018. Jeff Sessions, an attorney general under Trump and the force behind “zero tolerance,” defended the strategy in an interview with Reuters in last March https://www. .reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-familys/former-trump-attorney-general-sessions-regrets-migrant-family-separations-idUSKBN2AV10R, saying a person crossing the border illegally with a child “should not not be given immunity.” However, he expressed regret for the separations.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat who took office in January 2021, called family separations a “human tragedy” and quickly formed a task force to reunite families. Deported parents, once found, would have the option of returning to the United States to join their children, who had mostly stayed with American parents or sponsors. The task force identified more than 3,900 separated children at the US-Mexico border after July 2017 under “zero tolerance” and related policies. More than half were reunited under the Trump administration following litigation by migrant rights advocates. That left about 1,700 children still separated.
As of January 25, the Biden task force has reunited 126 children with their parents or legal guardians. About 377 others – from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil and Venezuela – have reunifications underway, according to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Setting up a process to bring deported parents back to Latin American countries has taken months, in part because of the Trump administration’s incomplete and shoddy record-keeping https://www. Reuters.com/world/us/us-reviewing-5600-migrant-child-cases-possible-separations-us-mexico-border-2021-04-07, the task force said. A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
To help the task force, the Biden administration created the Together.gov and Juntos.gov websites, where families can sign up for the grouping. The administration is “committed to finding every family and ensuring long-term stability for families in the United States,” Michelle Brane, head of the task force, said in a statement.
However, some families are frustrated, even distraught, by the slow pace of reunification, according to migrant advocates. “We’re talking about people who haven’t seen their children in three or four years,” said Hernandez’s attorney, Carol Anne Donohoe, who manages the nonprofit immigrant advocacy group’s family reunification project. based at the US-Mexico border Al Otro. Teenager.
“Why are you jumping them through those hoops?” she said. “Any question you ask these parents is extremely traumatic because they panic and think, ‘Oh no, I’m not coming back.'” TIPS FROM TAXI DRIVERS
It fell to Honduran lawyer Dora Melara to find Hernandez. Melara was enlisted in early 2020 by New York-based advocacy organization Justice in Motion, as part of the lawsuit against the US government brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Melara had only an incomplete name and location for Hernandez on a US government list of parents and guardians who had been separated from their children at the border. She had no contact information for the Hernandez girls. The Honduran lawyer made three trips over several weeks to a gangrenous town in northern Honduras, near the town of San Pedro Sula. She only traveled during the day to be safe.
Thanks in part to the advice of local taxi drivers, she reunited with Hernandez in March 2020. By the time she showed up at Hernandez’s doorstep, Manila file in hand, the Honduran mother was so desperate to see her girls that she was considering another crossing attempt. the border, this time with a caravan of migrants. https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-IMMIGRATION-PROFILE/0100B2FK1NP/index.html When Hernandez found out she could apply to join her daughters after Biden took office, she was thrilled. But what followed was months late.
“I gave all the information I could, but time passed and I got no message. I felt like I would never see my daughters again,” Hernandez said. Complicating her case was her request to travel with her 4-year-old grandson, Aron, who was in her care and would need her own passport and other permissions to leave Honduras.
In October 2021, she had applied for “humanitarian parole” for herself and her grandson to enter the United States, her lawyers said. Approval came weeks later, in December. Then Aron caught dengue, pushing back their travel date after Christmas. Finally, in early January, Hernandez was ordered to pack his bags, take a COVID-19 test, and head to the local airport with Aron.
A NEW START After the two travelers touched down in Los Angeles, the family headed to Maynor’s one-bedroom apartment. The girls stayed out of school the next day to help their mother with the mundane tasks of building a new life in the United States: getting a cell phone, enrolling Aron in school, looking for a bigger place. or live.
On humanitarian parole in the United States, Hernandez is eligible for a work permit and protected from deportation for three years, but she has no clear path to permanent legal status. The Biden administration recently pulled out of settlement talks with hundreds of families who had sued the government for compensation for costs and suffering allegedly caused by the separations. Some Republican lawmakers have raised an outcry over the potential for high payouts.
In 2019, however, a federal judge ruled that separated families were entitled to certain mental health services at no cost. A November 2021 study by the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights found that parents and children forcibly separated at the border suffered severe psychological trauma, including confusion and panic, depression, frequent crying and nightmares. Symptoms can persist even after reunification, clinicians have found.
For Michelle, it has been difficult to tell others about what she has been through. “All the problems I kept to myself because it’s weird to tell a teacher or a friend or someone, because maybe they won’t understand you or they will just feel bad for you,” she said after spending her first day with her mother.
Speaking in fluent English, Michelle said she tried to be strong for her little sister Nicole, who became sad when she saw other school children with their mothers. “I said ‘one day you’ll be like this, one day you’ll be with your mother.'”
“The past is the past,” she added. “Now that my mother is here, I want to create new memories.”
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)