Three American children and their adult Mexican cousin were held by immigration authorities at Chicago O’Hare Airport for 12 hours today, according to WBEZ.
Lawyers, a representative from the Mexican Consulate, a U.S. Congressperson, and the mayor of Chicago spoke with Customs and Border Protection officials to try to resolve the situation.
The three girls, ages 9, 10, and 13, were detained at 3 a.m. this morning, when they landed in Chicago. Their cousin, a Mexican who had a valid visitor visa, was detained as well. CBP said the cousin was “inadmissible.” The agency said the children would not be released until their parents arrived to pick them up.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers have attempted numerous times today to reach family members to pick up the children. As of 2 pm [Central time] CBP Officers are still awaiting a legal guardian to arrive and pick the children up,” a CBP statement earlier in the day read.
But activists and lawyers said that the undocumented parents were too afraid to present themselves to CBP. They were worried that they would be detained and deported.
“This is yet another example of the abusive practices and disregard of the law,” Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of PASO West Suburban Action Project, told WBEZ. “They have three U.S. citizen young girls detained, causing trauma and harm to this family and our communities.”
Ruiz-Velasco says she gave a letter to CBP officials from the parents, authorizing their children to be released to her, but CBP refused.
It’s unsurprising that these children’s parents would be worried about what might happen if they were to turn themselves over to authorities. Just last week, the Trump administration threatened mass immigration raids in major American cities.
The counsel of protection with the Mexican Consulate in Chicago, Rodrigo Baez, met with CBP officials about the case, as did U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
“I feel that it’s a kind of kidnapping of children by our government, and I’m really fed up with what we are doing,” Schakowsky told the Chicago Tribune.
“I’m going to try to go in and see why our government is acting this way to three minors that have every right to travel,” she added. “Three citizens of the United States of America. What is going on here? This is completely out of control.”
CBP made the decision to release the children go after public attention began focusing on the case. Dozens of activists gathered in the airport terminal with signs reading “Don’t make children hostages,” and “Let the children go.”
“I was really scared but I reacted and thought, we have rights and I called the Mexican consulate,” the children’s mother, who identified herself as Sylvia, told the Tribune. “I thank God I made that decision.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also stepped in to resolve the situation. Lightfoot tweeted thanking the CBP officers for their “responsiveness”
It’s unclear exactly what changed to allow CBP to release the children, other than mounting pressure from officials like Lightfoot.
The cousin who was escorting the children will apparently be sent back to Mexico today, despite having a valid visa.
“We can’t be there in every situation and that’s what really scares me,” Schakowsky told the Tribune. We are better than this. We don’t want this woman to live in fear, and we certainly don’t want her children to lose their rights as they did today.”