A Venezuelan family that was separated for months after it was entangled in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star scheme has been reunited in New York.
“Genesis crouches down, happy tears tugging her face into a big grin, as she nudges her 2-year-old daughter, wearing a backpack, pink sweatshirt and her hair in tight curls, toward her father,” Andrew Waite reports for the independent daily newspaper The Daily Gazette. “After Richard and Genesis hug and kiss, Richard turns to his daughter and scoops her up in one arm, pulling her close.”
The outlet reported this past August how Richard had been abruptly ripped from Genesis and their three children and jailed on Texas state charges after crossing into Texas the month prior, one of the dozens of such separations carried out there this past summer. Under Abbott’s cruel and likely illegal operation, Black and Latino migrants have been targeted for arrest under the guise of state trespassing law. Hundreds of others have been illegally jailed for weeks and months at a time with no official charges at all.
During this time, Genesis and the children were shuttled to New York, eventually settling in Rotterdam. Because Genesis’ cell phone had been damaged while crossing the Rio Grande, they spent weeks not knowing the other’s whereabouts. When they were finally able to contact each other, Richard said that all Genesis could do was weep.
“As Richard sat in jail, he witnessed other migrants held in the Segovia unit being released,” The Daily Gazette continued. “He asked his public defender about this and learned the men were pleading guilty to criminal trespassing. Richard said he and his public defender wanted to fight the charge, but doing so could have taken months, and Richard wanted to be released as soon as possible.”
But there have also been disturbing allegations that state officers zip-tied migrants’ hands, forced them to climb 10-foot-fencing onto private property, and then detained them for arrest. Hundreds of Operation Lone Star arrests have been challenged in court as unconstitutional. Stunningly, Abbott has since claimed in court that he has nothing to do with the discriminatory arrests because it’s state officers, and not him, enforcing the policy. This sudden about-face after endlessly touting the policy would be hilarious, if it weren’t so serious.
Richard would spend more than a month in jail, but the family’s separation was only prolonged when he was then sent to ICE custody and held at the Eden Detention Center. Richard underwent a “credible fear” interview in August but would still spend weeks more in detention before his release in late September, shortly after the Biden administration announced that it would be redesignating Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status. The Daily Gazette captured the family’s reunion at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport.
“And so, it turns out that after a bleak outlook over the summer, Richard and Genesis’ story is a hopeful one,” The Daily Gazette reported. “It’s the American dream, if you think about it. The chef and the nurse, just trying to make it. Now, Rotterdam is where they hope to settle.” Richard is ready to work again, to support his family and contribute to his community. “Whatever I can do to provide for my family,” he told the outlet.
This news of family separation under Abbott comes as the Biden administration has announced a proposed settlement barring the federal government from enacting policies that again separate children from their parents, except in limited circumstances, for a period of eight years. While this proposed settlement in no way erases the lingering trauma that resulted from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy, it is an important step toward justice, advocates said.
“While this settlement can never fully undo the harm and horror that these separated families had to endure as U.S. government policy, it gives legal power to the moral imperative that we can never let family separations happen again,” Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center Executive Director Marisa Limón Garza said in a statement. “We call on Congress to do their part and enshrine this prohibition on family separations at the border as a permanent part of U.S. law.”