A Salvadoran mother and her four-year-old son are together again, eight months after U.S. border agents separated them at the border and four months after the Trump administration erroneously deemed them “ineligible” to reunite.
A federal court judge in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia ruled Tuesday, November 27, that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must reunite the mother, referred to as Ms. Q in the case, and her son “J” before midnight on November 30. The pair were reunited in Texas, hours before the deadline, and released from DHS custody soon after. The family is represented pro bono by attorneys at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“I was able to speak with Ms. Q shortly after she and little J were reunited. She kept saying how happy she was,” said NIJC attorney Colleen Kilbride, a member of the large team of advocates who argued for the family’s reunification and release. “She told us that he did a double-take, and then ran right up to her and gave her lots of kisses. We are overjoyed to have finally secured their release. Ms. Q and J have endured unimaginable emotional and physical stress over the past several months. They can finally access care and support to help them heal from their trauma and seek the legal protections available to them under U.S. law.”
Ms. Q and her son were apprehended in March 2018 by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers soon after they entered the United States to seek asylum from extreme violence and persecution they had experienced at home. They were first held at a processing station and then put in wire cages for two days until they were separated. DHS then detained Ms. Q in two separate immigration jails in Laredo, Texas, while her son was held in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. In July, DHS erroneously deemed Ms. Q “ineligible” to reunify with her son based on an arrest warrant from El Salvador, but refused to provide any evidence in support of the warrant. An attorney in El Salvador confirmed the warrant was baseless and an expert on Salvadoran country conditions confirmed that such warrants are commonly issued against innocent people who happen to live in areas with large gang presence. An immigration judge found Ms. Q credible after she testified extensively that she has never been affiliated with a gang and was cross-examined by a government prosecutor. But the Trump administration refused to reunite the family for eight months until the federal court ruled this week.
“The ruling is a victory for justice in the face of the government’s inexcusable decision to keep this mother separated from her four-year-old son,” said Michael J. Galas, the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP attorney who argued the case last week in federal court. “It represents another triumph of the rule of law in the face of ongoing civil and human rights violations against lawful asylum-seekers.”
Recent media investigations have found that the government continues to regularly tear children from their parents at the border on the basis of charges similar to those raised against Ms. Q, causing incalculable harms to children and parents.
Ms. Q and J arrived together in Chicago on Saturday evening, where they were offered housing and support by the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, a nonprofit organization that has provided housing for several families who were separated under the Trump administration’s horrific “zero-tolerance” policy and reunited over the summer.
“The Trump administration’s open policy of cruelty and torture to families fleeing persecution has caused intense trauma with long-term consequences for children and parents,” said Ghita Schwarz, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, co-counsel in the federal court case. “Last week’s ruling — requiring the reunion of a traumatized four-year-old with his mother — is part of a consistent stance by federal courts to reject this vicious family separation policy.”