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Voices of Despair

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Parents Describe Fear and Anguish Under Trump’s Family Separation Policy

In just the first two weeks under Trump’s new family separation policy, 658 children have been taken from parents, almost 46 children per day.  At this rate, thousands of children could be taken from parents within months as a result of Trump’s policy to systematically penalize parents for seeking protection from violence or the opportunity to provide for their family.

Prior to the new systematic family separation policy, more than 700 children, 100 under the age of four, were also separated from parents from October 2017 through April 2018.  And, despite statements from the Secretary of Homeland Security that families will not be separated if they seek asylum at ports of entry, multiple reports of separated children at ports of entry tell a different story.

In their own words, parents describe fear, anguish, and despair when being separated from their children, one child as young as 18 months.

Ms. J.I.L. declaration dated April 3, 2018 – citizen of El Salvador seeking asylum in March 2018 with two sons, age 4 and 10:

I was only given five minutes to say goodbye before J.S.P.L. and D.A.P.L. [her sons] were torn from me.  My babies started crying when they found out we were going to be separated. It breaks my heart to remember my youngest wail, “Why do I have to leave?  Mami, I want to stay with you!” My youngest cried and screamed in protest because he did not want to leave my side. My oldest son was also confused and did not understand what was happening.  In tears myself, I asked my boys to be brave, and I promised we would be together again soon. I begged the woman who took my children to keep them together so they could at least have each other.  


It has been 18 days since I have spoken to my boys.  I do not know where my sons are, and I am very worried about them.  I call the Office of Refugee Resettlement to learn about my children, but the office only told me that the boys are in a shelter in San Antonio.

The separation from my sons has been incredibly hard, because I have never been away from them before.  I do not want my children to think I abandoned them. J.S.P.L. and D.A.P.L. are so attached to me. D.A.P.L. used to sleep in bed with me every night while J.S.P.L. slept in his own bed in the same room….It hurts me to think how anxious and distressed they must be without me.


I brought my sons to the United States to seek safety not to leave them without their mother.  I have heard that my two sons may have been separated and placed in different foster homes. If this is true, I am even more worried, because now they are with strangers, away from each other.

I am desperate to be reunited with both of my sons.  I came with the hope that we could come here and live safely together. Instead, I am imprisoned while my two boys are alone among strangers.

Mirian declaration dated April 6, 2018 – citizen of Honduras seeking asylum at Brownsville port of entry in February 2018 with 18-month-old son:

The U.S. immigration officers then told me that they were taking my son from me.  They said he would be going to one place and I would be going to another. I asked why the officers were separating my son from me.  They did not provide any reason.

The immigration officers made me walk out with my son to a government vehicle and place my son in a car seat in the vehicle.  My son was crying as I put him in the seat. I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son, because the officers slammed the door shurt as soon as he was in his seat.  I was crying, too. I cry even now when I think about that moment when the border officers took my son away.

Immigration officers then took me to Port Isabel detention center, where I stayed for a few days….I was going crazy wondering what happened with my son.  I was very worried about him and did not know where he was.

The caseworker has told me that my son asked for me and cried all the time during the first few days after we were separated.  


I have not been able to speak to my son, because he does not really talk yet since he is so young.  I need to be able to hold him and reassure him that he is safe and that his mother is here for him.


During the first weeks after my son and I were separated, I was very depressed and quiet; I did not even want to eat.  Now I am trying to be strong for my son so that I can work hard to be reunited with him and to take care of him once we are together.

Mr. U. declaration dated April 18, 2018 – citizen of Kyrgyzstan seeking asylum at San Ysidro Port of Entry in October 2017 with 13-year-old son:

I was told that I was going to be separated from my son.  I suffer from high blood pressure and felt as though I was having a heart attack.  I was not able to ask why they were separating my son from me and did not know what to do.  I feel like I was in shock and do not remember what happened next or even how I got to the detention center after that.  All I can remember is how much my son and I were both crying as they took him away. I do not recall anyone questioning whether I am really his biological father or wether I was a danger to him or abusive in any way.  I even had my son’s birth certificate proving I am his father.


It has been about six months since I last saw my son.  We speak over the phone once a week for about 10 minutes.  It is not enough. The last time we spoke, it sounded like he had been crying.  I worry about him constantly. He is just a boy in a strange land with no parents or relatives with him.  He needs me.

He sounds depressed and each time I speak with him over the phone, he talks less and less.  This separation is tearing me apart inside. T.U. is only 13 years old and I should be with him to comfort and protect him.

Ms. G. declaration dated April 23, 2018 – citizen of Mexico seeking asylum at Nogales, Arizona border in March 2018 with six-year-old blind daughter and four-year-old son:

I was sent to the Eloy Detention Center around march 5, 2018.  My children were sent to an ORR facility Phoenix, Arizona.

I have not seen my children for one and half months.  I worry about them constantly and don’t know when I will see them.  We have talked on the phone, at first once a week, and now twice a week.  They are constantly asking me when we will be together again.

I know that Y-M-N-P and J-P-P-G are having a very hard time detained all by themselves without me.  They are only six and four years-old in a strange country and they need their parent.

Mr. A. declaration dated April 25, 2018 – citizen of Honduras seeking asylum in February 2018 with three-year-old- son:

I have not seen him [son] for over two months.  I worry about R.Z.A.R. constantly and don’t know when I will see him.  We have talked on the phone several times, but I do not have many minutes and I do not always get an answer when I call.

I know R. is having a very hard time detained all by himself without me.  My son has already suffered a lot because his mother disappeared about six months ago.  He is too young to understand that she was taken from us, but he knows she is gone and he misses her.  That has been very hard on him. He is only a three-year-old in a strange country and needs his parent.

Maria statement dated May 20, 2018 – sought asylum at San Ysidro Port of Entry in May 2018 with two children, age 7 and 2:

On Tuesday at about 8am they called just my 2 children and I went out and they said “Miss, only they are going.” I asked where and they told me where there are more children. I told them they cannot separate my children from me … Then the officer said “they are here for them. Can the little one walk?” “Yes,” I told the officer. “Let him down,” they told me. The older one took his hand and they started to walk. Then they turned around to look and when they saw that I was not going after them they cried more and when they were out of sight I asked again where they had taken them. They only told me “to a shelter” and that they would explain to me later and they took me back to the icebox…

Let it be clear that I brought them to protect them because I love them and what is happening to me hurts so much that there are times when I don’t know what to do… I just want to tell the Government Committee to put yourselves in my place for a bit and think. I think most of you have children. Think about what you would feel if they separated your children from you for a time. If you could feel the pain I feel as a mother maybe you would understand that it isn’t necessary to separate children from their parents because we come fleeing from our countries…

Jocelyn on ABC News May 31, 2018 describing her experience of being separated from her son after being apprehended by border agents:

“He didn’t know where he was going, so he was looking at me like, ‘Mom, help me, because I don’t know where they’re taking me,’ Jocelyn, 31, said Wednesday, beginning to sob uncontrollably. “I didn’t know what was going to happen to us. I spent the night crying because I wanted James to be protected, and I didn’t know what was going to happen to him.”

Los Angeles Times reporting on Mildred Lucia Rojas-Quevedo in federal court asking a judge for help in reuniting with her child:

On Tuesday, a migrant mother from Guatemala apologized to [Federal District Court Judge] Ormsby for crossing illegally into surrounding Hidalgo County on Saturday. She started to cry as she pleaded with him to reunite her with her 9-year-old daughter.

“She’s already had three operations on her eyes. At her age, she can’t read because of the problems with her eyes,” said Mildred Lucia Rojas-Quevedo de Roguel, 37, a slight redhead in a black jacket who had no criminal record.”I will go back to my country, but I need my daughter.”

She was sentenced to time served and sent back to detention to await a hearing on her immigration case. It was unclear when, or if, she would see her daughter.

The Intercept reporting on parents in courtrooms asking for help from judges:

One woman who spoke about her children in open court was from Honduras. “Is my little girl going to go with me when I get deported?” she asked Morgan.

“Your Honor,” interjected Jeff Wilde, director of the Federal Public Defender’s office in Brownsville, “both she and the man next to her have their children with them. They had a credible fear claim [for asylum]. … Their children have been separated from them, and I’ve been unable to figure out where their children are at this point.”

A young father then said he’d been separated from his 6-year-old and was very worried.

The judge tried to assume his crisp air. But he seemed overwhelmed, with the parents’ worry and with suspicion that the government was misrepresenting to him what was really happening to the children.

“The way it’s supposed to work,” he told the parents, “you’re going to be sent to a camp where your child will be allowed to join you. That’s my understanding of how it’s supposed to work.”

“They told me they were going to take her away,” a mother interjected about her young daughter.

“Well, let’s hope they don’t,” said Morgan. “You and your daughter, you should be joined together.”

And then, for many seconds, he was silent.


It was Thursday, the fourth day of “zero tolerance” in his court, and defendants were telling their stories. The judge had just asked Holly D’Andrea, the assistant U.S. attorney handling illegal entry prosecutions that day, if it were true that families were being reunited in detention. D’Andrea sounded uncertain, but answered that she thought it was true.

“Tell you what,” the judge said slowly, with a hard edge in his voice, “if it’s not, then there are a lot of folks that have some answering to do. Because what you’ve done, in effect, by separating these children is you’re putting them in some place without their parents. If you can imagine there’s a hell, that’s probably what it looks like.”

Debbie Nathan of The Intercept describing one woman in shock and grief over the separation of her child:

“You’re going to be deported,” she remembers them telling her. “And your child will stay here.” The next morning, the child was taken. Delia fell on her knees during the removal, wailing and begging not to be separated. Officials looked on indifferently, she said, as her child screamed incessantly.

When I spoke with Delia a few days later, she was in ICE detention, without her child, hours from Brownsville, and appeared to be in shock. She was having problems concentrating and answering simple questions. She wept constantly. She said she was wracked with fear and worried about her child, with whom she has had no contact since their separation. She could not imagine being deported back to her home country. “He will kill me there,” she said. “He will kill both of us.” Neither could she imagine her child being left behind in America. Her mind seemed shattered.

When she was able to organize her thoughts, Delia talked about two things. One was the child. The other was God.