Winners & Losers in Family Separation Trauma

A game of political tug-of-war in Washington has amounted to trauma across the Rio Grande Valley, where droves of parents detained for crossing illegally are separated from their children. U.S. President Donald Trump describes his own choices as one of loopholes or “zero tolerance.”

“We can either release all illegal immigrant families and minors who show up at the border from Central America or we can arrest the adults for the federal crime of illegal entry. Those are the only two options: totally open borders or criminal prosecution for law breaking,” Trump said.

The Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy places anyone who crossed illegally at risk of detention, including asylum-seekers and parents of minors. Since children cannot be held in detention centers, they are separated from their parents, with no word on when or how they might be reunited. Still, migrant families continue to take their chances.

In speaking with migrant families here in McAllen, Texas, there is a common thread between their stories. No matter how dreadful the circumstances may be here, the alternative — they say — is worse.”

“This young man, he made me cry,” Luis Guerrero, a volunteer for Catholic Charities told VOA. “Tears came out my eyes, because he said ‘we came down here because they (gangs) wanted to make my daughter a prostitute.’ That they came knocking on his door.”

“A mother that has a kid that is suffering, nothing will stop her from saving her son,” Sister Norma Pimental, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley said. “It doesn’t matter what we do here, unfortunately, where children suffer in order to attempt mothers to stop coming. But if her son is suffering, it’s a huge risk, but they are going to save their children if they can.”

Caught, then what?

Parents charged with illegal entry are processed and sent to a detention center, while their children are separated and sent to federal foster care facilities.


“Every mother that described having their child taken from them, stated that they had been lied to when the child was taken from them,” attorney Attorney Michael Avenatti said, describing his interactions with some of the mothers. “At no point in time did anyone with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or anyone else tell the mother what was really going on; namely, that they were taking the children from them, and it would be days, weeks, and months before they saw them again.”

Sister Norma Pimentel calls families that entered the United States illegally but have not been separated the “lucky ones” — a discretionary decision among Border Patrol chiefs, sometimes out of the sheer volume at detention centers, to allow some families to prove credible fear and seek asylum.

But even among families who were not separated, fear has infiltrated through stories of others.

“I heard various women say that a girl had supposedly been brought to a court, and they brought her there for 36 hours, except they didn’t take her where they had said…but to a jail, and when she arrived, her son wasn’t there anymore, Lucia, a migrant from Guatemala told VOA.



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