Today, Vice News reported the story of a 27-year-old Honduran man named Jose who was separated from his three-year-old son at the border in May. Unlike many of the immigrants who have had their families torn apart since the implementation of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, however, Jose did not come to the US illegally.
Though after entering the States Jose was detained with a removal order, it was determined after an interview with immigration officials in June that Jose’s fear of returning to Honduras was credible—several of Jose’s relatives were killed by a gang in Honduras who also threatened his life—and his asylum case will move forward, according to Vice News. And yet only this week was Jose finally reunited with his son.
“I never thought they would separate me from my son,” Jose told Vice. “I never imagined it. It was very hard, the hardest thing that’s happened to me.”
The Trump administration has frequently claimed that asylum seekers at the border would not be separated from their children. “DHS is not separating families legitimately seeking asylum at ports of entry,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a White House press conference on June 18.
But Jose is far from the only legal asylum seeker who has experienced family separation, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times:
[C]ourt filings describe numerous cases in recent months in which families were separated after presenting themselves at a port of entry to ask for asylum.
This happened even when asylum seekers carried records, such as birth certificates or hospital documents, listing them as the parents of their children, according to interviews and court records.
While border officials have long had a policy of separating children when their safety might be in question, lawyers and advocates say they began seeing a significant increase last year in officials separating children from their parents who asked for asylum at ports of entry, without clear reasons.
The LA Times reports that these separations began long before the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy was announced. Nicole Ramos, an attorney who helps asylum seekers in Tijuana, says she noticed an uptick in family separations in May of 2017, a year before Jose and his son were separated.
Now that the administration says that they will end family separations at the border, there’s uncertainty about whether their promise can be trusted.
Ramos said she worries that despite President Trump’s June 20 executive order to end family separations, border officials will continue separating families without due process by saying that a parent is a danger to the child or is not actually the parent.
“They were doing it before the zero-tolerance policy and they’re going to keep doing it,” she said. “They will say the parent presented a security risk without well-articulated reasons as to what that security risk was.”
Like the thousands of other parents who have had their children taken from them, it’s unknown how long it will take to reunite families who were separated while seeking asylum, though the first deadline to reunite families who cleared background checks passed yesterday. Even when they are reunited, the trauma of the experience will persist.
“I just think I should take [my son] to a psychologist,” Jose told Vice. “His mind is confused, because of the solitude he lived through, without the love of his father or his mother. He was forgotten. He must have thought that I had abandoned him. Sometimes children get sick from so much desperation. They get sick.”