‘Mi Amor!’: Tearful Scenes as Immigrant Reunions Begin in New York
Posted July 11, 2018 10:20 p.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2018 10:27 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — The reunions in New York began Tuesday night and continued at a trickle Wednesday morning — a handful of families whose children were among the youngest of those separated at the border.
All the adults were fitted for ankle bracelets, their tether to the federal government. They left for the next stages of their journey, released and headed to relatives’ homes all over the country, with little more than the dirty clothes in which they crossed the border. But they had the most important thing.
Denis Rivas was back with Joshua, 4, after not even speaking to him since they were separated a month ago. Maria Guinac was with her three children, too — the youngest, Gustavo, turned 3 while she was being held in Texas. Javier Garrido was with his 4-year-old, William, who had been taken from him in the middle of the night in Laredo, Texas.
A court order had mandated the government to reunify parents with children younger than 5 who had been separated from their families by Tuesday. But in many cases the deadline was missed.
It was still unclear on Wednesday how many of the 63 children under 5 in federal custody across the country, who appeared to be eligible under a court order from a California judge for immediate reunification, had actually been returned to their parents.
But according to a Trump administration official, authorities anticipated that as of early Thursday morning, they will have reunified all children under age 5 who are eligible under the court order for reunification with parents in the United States.
Federal workers had labored late into the night to push through reunifications, but still there were glitches. Several parents flown in to detention centers near New York in the days leading up to the deadline had been taken to 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan on Tuesday, only to have to return to detention at the end of the day — because their ankle monitors were not working.
Some of them were stirred again in the wee hours of Wednesday to return to Federal Plaza, where the three parents finally saw their children later that morning. The children were wearing new, unfamiliar clothes; their hair was combed and they carried backpacks so new that some still had the tags on.
They were impassive as their parents embraced them; the tears came slowly. “Mi amor!” Celia Del Carmen Delgado cried as she first saw her 3-year-old, Adela, after more than two months. At first, she said, Adela just stared at her.
“It was as if she was remembering me,” Delgado said.
Then the little girl started to cry.
An agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement handed each parent a stapled packet with the terms of their release, and left. Lawyers, workers from nonprofits and volunteers sat with the parents, going through the paperwork and helping them make arrangements to join relatives. In one case, a parent’s flight had been paid for with airline points donated by volunteers.
As the parents waited for flights and for relatives who were driving in from out of state to pick them up, volunteers arranged for two families to head to a home in Brooklyn to shower, eat and rest. They called other volunteers, asking them to bring fresh changes of clothes, a car seat from Target, and medicine for Adela, who had a nagging cough.
Rivas and his boy Joshua were driven to the airport by a volunteer, who did not wish to give his name. They were bound for North Carolina, their original destination, where they planned to stay with Rivas’ mother and sister. On the way to the airport, the volunteer bought Rivas a burger. He vomited; he had not eaten in three days, and said in detention in El Paso, Texas, he had eaten little more than bread. At the airport, Rivas presented the only documents he had: those given to him that day by ICE, which contained their grainy photographs. But he was told they could fly. Rivas was told he would receive a pat-down and his belongings — his son’s yellow duffel bag — would be inspected.
The volunteer who drove Rivas to the airport handed him $20 for a snack before the flight. As Rivas waited in a security line, a guard looked down at the boy, who stood by him, looking sleepy, and commented on how cute he was.
Elsewhere in the city, at a facility affiliated with the nonprofit Catholic Charities, which was providing legal services for the children, two more fathers held their sons in their arms. Believed to be the first children in New York to have been reunited with their parents, on Tuesday, the 4-year-old boys had been living in the same foster home.
One of the men, Javier Garrido, a construction worker from Honduras, broke down in tears as he described being separated from his son in Laredo, Texas. It was 4 a.m., and he and William were asleep in a freezing holding pen known as the “icebox.”
“All of a sudden they came asking for the boy. They told me, ‘He’s going.’
“What do you mean you’re taking him? And me?”
The agents took William by force, Garrido said through tears, and told him the boy would be put up for adoption.
Like the other families, he would be joining relatives out of state — his were in Louisiana — while lawyers sort out their cases. Both men may have unwittingly agreed to expedited orders of deportation, further complicating their futures, according to Mario Russell, the director of Immigrant and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities.
The immediate concerns for the parents, however, now also include figuring out daily life with an ankle monitor. They were still unclear how the technology worked, having to Google instructions on showering and charging the devices.