National News

It took this mother 55 days to be reunited with her young daughter

Posted July 5, 2018 11:18 a.m. EDT

— Angelica Gonzalez-Garcia waited 55 days for this moment.

She wept as she embraced her 8-year-old daughter Thursday afternoon at Boston's Logan Airport, more than 2,500 miles from the Arizona detention center where Gonzalez-Garcia said an immigration agent wished her a "Happy Mother's Day" before the girl was taken from her without explanation.

The long-awaited reunion came on the same day Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar raised the number of minors in the agency's care who were possibly children from separated families. He said there may be just under 3,000 children, with about 100 children under the age of 5.

Gonzalez-Garcia, 31, was fortunate in some ways. Only a trickle of children have been reunited with their parents.

The long journey to the airport reunion has taken Gonzalez-Garcia from her native Guatemala, which she and her daughter fled in late April to seek asylum in the US because of severe abuse and domestic violence at home, according to lawsuit the mother filed against the federal government last week.

"When I felt I could no longer live safely in my country, I left," she said in an affidavit.

Mother and child endured the sometimes perilous route from southern Mexico to the US border, where in early May they were taken into custody in Arizona, according to the lawsuit.

Gonzalez-Garcia and her daughter were held in a room with 30 to 40 other women and children, the lawsuit said. Days later, immigration officers took her daughter away, telling her she would "never see" the girl again.

The day before the separation, an immigration officer asked Gonzalez-Garcia a question, according to the affidavit.

"In Guatemala, do they celebrate Mother's Day?"

"When I answered yes, he said: 'Then Happy Mother's Day' because the next Sunday was Mother's Day," Gonzalez-Garcia recalled. "I lowered my head so that my daughter would not see the tears forming in my eyes."

Gonzalez-Garcia was eventually transferred to a detention center in Colorado, the lawsuit said. She was released on bond June 19 after filing an asylum application. She is now staying with friends in Massachusetts.

When she was finally able to reach her daughter, Gonzalez-Garcia learned the girl feared for her safety after having been bruised and injured by another child at a shelter in Texas, according to the lawsuit. Her daughter turned 8 while at the shelter.

The fate of thousands of children separated from their families at the southern border under the Trump administration's widely condemned zero tolerance policy remains unclear.

Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, told reporters Thursday that under 3,000 children separated from their parents are in government custody -- a figure far higher than the one his department released nine days ago.

HHS had previously reported having 2,047 children separated from parents in its care.

Azar said "a review and comprehensive audit of multiple data sets" undertaken by HHS and the Department of Homeland Security "has identified under 3,000 children in total, including approximately 100 children under the age of 5" in the care of Office of Refugee Resettlement-funded grantees.

The HHS secretary said that number refers to children "who may have been separated from their purported parents who were taken into DHS custody for having crossed illegally or for other reasons like concerns for the safety of the child."

The Trump administration is grappling with a series of court-imposed deadlines after a judge ordered the US government to halt most family separations at the border and the reunification of separated families.