Church groups assist reunited immigrant families

SAN ANTONIO — The immigrant parents arrived at Catholic Charities in white vans with their children, their paperwork and almost nothing else.

They needed food, clothing, a place to stay and a way to travel to family in the U.S. Many were still shell-shocked from weeks in government detention. One father carried an infant who didn’t recognize him after two months apart. A mother held the hand of her 5-year-old daughter, who refused for a time to talk on the phone because she blamed her for their separation.

Scenes such as this are unfolding throughout Texas and Arizona as the Trump administration works to meet today’s deadline to reunite immigrant parents and children. The government is releasing hundreds of families to faith-based groups and leaving the groups to care for them.

Natalia Oliveira da Silva, a mother from Brazil, waited nervously outside the immigration detention center in Pearsall, Texas, for her young daughter, Sara. She soon spotted the 5-year-old coming in a vehicle, a seatbelt over her chest.

Since their separation in late May, the girl had been at a shelter for immigrant minors in Chicago, while Oliveira was moved through facilities across Texas.

Like other families reunited at Pearsall, Oliveira and her daughter were taken to Catholic Charities in San Antonio, about an hour’s drive away. Charity workers checked them into a hotel Sunday night and picked them up Monday morning, along with another immigrant family.

When Oliveira and her daughter arrived at the Catholic Charities office, two people held open the doors and said “hola.” Inside, volunteers were folding donated clothes and preparing for the day ahead. A local restaurant had dropped off a catered meal of tortillas, beef and grilled vegetables. In a room upstairs, parents could pick from racks of clothes and boxes of toys for the children.

After the reunions, the mood inside the waiting area brightened from somber to joyful. A group of boys started to play with a foam soccer ball. The younger children played with toy trucks and guitars. Parents holding their children laughed and swapped stories about where they were headed next.

Many told horror stories about their ordeals, all the while cherishing the fact that they had their children back.