Children reunited with parents
SAN DIEGO — Lugging little backpacks, smiling immigrant children were scooped up into their parents’ arms Tuesday as the Trump administration scrambled to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of youngsters forcibly separated from their families at the border.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, two boys and a girl who had been in temporary foster care were reunited with their Honduran fathers at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement center about three months after they were split up.
The three fathers were “just holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again,” said immigration lawyer Abril Valdes.
One of the fathers, Ever Reyes Mejia, walked out of the ICE center carrying his beaming son and the boy’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. The boy was secured in a booster seat, and father and son were driven away. Lawyers said the fathers were too distraught to speak to the news media.
The Justice Department said more than 50 children under age 5 could be back in the arms of their parents by the deadline at the end of the day.
It was the largest single effort to date to undo the effects of President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy of separating families who try to slip across the Mexican border into the U.S.
Authorities gave few details on where the reunions would be held, and many were expected to take place in private.
In Grand Rapids, the children were “absolutely thrilled to be with their parents again. It’s all confusing to them why there’s so many people here and why there’s so many strangers here, but they know that they’re safe,” Valdes said outside the ICE offices.
Government attorneys, meanwhile, told a federal judge in San Diego that the Trump administration would not meet the deadline for 20 other children under 5 because it needed more time to track down parents who have already been deported or released into the U.S.
Asked about the missed deadline, the president said: “Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That’s the solution.”
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, whose organization filed the lawsuit that forced the administration’s hand, said he was “both thrilled and disappointed” with the government’s work on the deadline.
“Things have taken a real step forward,” Gelernt said.
The administration faces a second, bigger deadline — July 26 — to reunite perhaps 2,000 or so older children who were also separated from their families at the border in the past few months.
On Tuesday morning, staff members at a nonprofit organization that has been housing many of the youngest children “made sure every backpack was full and every child got a hug and a goodbye,” Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez said.