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Nine Separated Families Reunited, Finally — A Rare Dose of Good News Amidst Ongoing Traumas of Trump’s Family Separation

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Powerful LAX Reunions Thanks to the Tireless Advocacy of Many

Family separation remains one of the darkest chapters of the Trump presidency and modern U.S. policymaking. The incredible depths of the Trump administration’s callousness and cruelty remains staggering. As a reminder, a November 2019 DHS Inspector General report found that the Trump administration was prepared to separate as many as 26,000 children from their parents, while a December 2019 joint piece from the Texas Tribune and Center for Public Integrity detailed that the Trump administration was well aware of the emotional and mental health traumas separated children would suffer, but nonetheless moved forward with their “zero tolerance” plans to separate families as a deterrence strategy. 

As a San Diego Union-Tribune story this week details, “U.S. officials say they are highly confident to have reached tally on separated children: 4,368, the latest tally shows that 4,368 children in addition to their families have been subjected to incalculable trauma. But the Union-Tribune story also describes the continued advocacy of organizations, attorneys, and volunteers – as well as Judge Dana Sabraw — who collectively have helped stop and spotlight the horrors of the family separation policy and have been working tirelessly to reunite families. As the story notes:

Sabraw ordered the government to help track down the separated parents and give them the option to reunite with their children. That effort has largely been completed as to the first group, but attorneys and nonprofit workers are continuing to track down parents of the second group, many of them in Central America. So far, in the course of more than 47,000 phone calls, the lawyers have been able to reach 364 parents or their attorneys. Additionally, on-the-ground efforts by the nonprofit Justice in Motion has contacted 113 parents outside of the U.S.

Thanks to these ongoing efforts, we are seeing important moments of good news worth celebrating amidst the terrible ongoing trauma. A CBS News story by Camilo Montoya-Galvez, “Migrant parents deported without their children make historic return to the U.S.,” describes the reunification of nine parents at LAX with their loved ones (be sure to watch the powerful accompanying video of the parents being reunified with their children available at the link).

Nine migrant parents who were expelled from the U.S. after being separated from their children in 2017 and 2018 set foot on American soil once again early Thursday morning in a historic, court-mandated return. Advocates hope the reunions will be the first of several reliefs granted to some of the hundreds of fathers and mothers deported to Central America without their children.

Escorted by a group of advocates, faith leaders and lawyers, the eight fathers and one mother arrived in Los Angeles International Airport in the middle of night, carrying conspicuous smiles fueled by the improbable opportunity to see their children in person for the first time in more than a year and a half. 

For many of them, it was the first time in the U.S. outside the treacherous terrain of the southern border, crowded and cold Border Patrol cells and jail-like adult detention centers. It was also their second time on board an airplane; the first being when they sat on a deportation flight with their arms bound by metal shackles.

…”I don’t have words to express what I feel. It’s something really big,” Fernando, a migrant father from Guatemala, told CBS News in Spanish after embracing his wife and three young daughters for the first time in about one year and eight months. “We all deserve an opportunity in life. And to all the parents who are watching us, who are separated from their children, have patience, have faith and pray a lot because miracles exist.”

…Over the past two years, Fernando’s family has faced great adversity. They fled Guatemala in early 2018 after Fernando’s teenage son was murdered. The family sought asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border after being forcibly separated into two groups by Mexican authorities. While his wife and two of his daughters were detained together and eventually released by U.S. officials, Fernando and his middle daughter were separated under the “zero tolerance” policy. 

…”We’ve gone through a lot of difficult situations,” Fernando said. “And I think that after all we’ve been through, we need an opportunity to be together and to fight together — which is what I want for my family.”

Fernando and the other migrant parents thanked the coalition of advocacy groups that helped them return to the U.S. Organizations and firms like Al Otro Lado, the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, De Anda Law Firm, Milbank LLP, Justice in Motion and the Los Angeles Archdiocese mounted what Sabraw, the federal judge in San Diego, called a “Herculean” effort to track down the nearly 500 parents who were deported without their children, provide them legal assistance and help some of them return to the U.S. on Thursday.