Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

David Xol-Cholom, of Guatemala hugs his son Byron at Los Angeles International Airport as they reunite after being separated. (AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

LOS ANGELES: Nine parents who were deported as the Trump administration separated thousands of migrant families landed back into the US late Wednesday to reunite with children they had not seen in a year and a half.
The group arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Guatemala City in a trip arranged under the order of a federal judge who found the US government had unlawfully prevented them from seeking asylum. An asylum advocate confirmed the nine parents were all aboard the flight.
Some of the children were at the airport to greet them, including David Xol’s 9-year-old son Byron.
David fell to one knee and tearfully embraced Byron for about three minutes, patting the back of his son’s head.
“He was small,” David said after rising to his feet. He looked at his attorney — who accompanied him on the flight — raised his hand about chest-high and said, “He grew a lot.”
David, Byron and his attorney, Ricardo de Anda, then embraced in a three-way hug and exchanged words in their huddle. Byron was all smiles. Father, son, attorney and family sponsor eagerly left the airport for their hotel.
The reunion was a powerful reminder of the lasting effects of Trump’s separation policy, even as attention and outrage has faded amid impeachment proceedings and tensions with Iran. But it also underscored that hundreds, potentially thousands, of other parents and children are still apart nearly two years after the zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized border crossings took effect.
“They all kind of hit the lottery,” said Linda Grimm, an attorney who represents one of the parents returning to the US “There are so many people out there who have been traumatized by the family separation policy whose pain is not going to be redressed.”
More than 4,000 children are known to have been separated from their parents before and during the official start of zero tolerance in spring 2018. Under the policy, border agents charged parents en masse with illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, then placed their children in government facilities, including some “tender-age shelters” set up for infants.
The US has acknowledged that agents separated families long before they enforced zero tolerance across the entire southern border, its agencies did not properly record separations, and some detention centers were overcrowded and undersupplied, with families denied food, water or medical care.
In June 2018, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to stop separating families and reunite parents and children.
At least 470 parents were deported without their children. Some of the kids were held in US government facilities and ultimately placed with sponsors. Others were deported to their home countries.
Accounts emerged of many parents being told to sign paperwork they couldn’t read or understand or being denied a chance to request asylum in ways that violated federal law.
The US Department of Homeland Security referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, which did not respond.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the original family separation lawsuit before Sabraw, asked the judge to order the return of a small group of parents whose children remained in the US In September, Sabraw required the US to allow 11 parents to come back and denied relief to seven others.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Sabraw made clear he would only order the return of people “who were misled or coerced into giving up their asylum rights.” That will leave other parents who fled violence, poverty and persecution to decide whether to have their children return to their home countries or remain in the US without them.
“Many are going to make the decision that generations of immigrant parents have made — to leave their child in the US and endure the hardship of separation, but to do it for their child’s own safety,” Gelernt said.
Xol said that after he and his then-7-year-old son, Byron, crossed the border, they were taken to a US Border Patrol processing center in South Texas. Xol was charged with illegal entry on May 19, 2018.
Two days later, Xol said an officer told him to sign a document that would allow him and Byron to be deported together. If he didn’t sign, Byron would be given up for adoption and Xol would be detained for at least two years.
Xol signed the document, only to have Byron taken away and then get deported to Guatemala. Byron was placed in government facilities for 11 months.
The family’s attorney, Ricardo de Anda, persuaded a federal court to force the US to let a Texas family take in Byron. Since May 2019, Byron has lived with Holly and Matthew Sewell and their two children, with regular video calls to his family.
Holly Sewell brought Byron, now 9, to meet his father at the airport. They planned to go back to Texas to pack and prepare for Byron to move in with his father once Xol is settled in California. Before the reunion, Byron kept asking Sewell, his caretaker, when his father would clear immigration authorities.
“They’re almost here, you’re doing great,” she said. “Count to 1,000.”
“999,” Byron responded.
She said she was thrilled Byron could see his dad again but sharply criticized the US government’s treatment of asylum-seekers.
Esvin Fernando Arredondo was expected to be on the plane. The father from Guatemala was separated from one of his daughters, Andrea Arredondo — then 12 years old and now 13, after they turned themselves in on May 16, 2018, at a Texas crossing and sought asylum legally, according to Grimm, his lawyer. He failed an initial screening and agreed to go back to Guatemala.
According to Sabraw’s ruling, the government deported Arredondo even after the judge had ordered families reunited and subsequently prohibited US officials from removing any parent separated from their child. He’s now being given a second chance at asylum under the court order.
Andrea was separated from all family for about a month, living in a shelter as the government struggled to connect children with their parents because they lacked adequate tracking systems. She was finally reunited with her mother, who had turned herself in at the Texas crossing with the other two daughters four days earlier than her husband, on May 12, 2018.
She and her two daughters passed the initial screening interview for asylum, unlike her husband, even though they were fleeing for the same reason. Their son Marco, 17, was shot and killed by suspected gang members in Guatemala City.
Arredondo’s wife, Cleivi Jerez, 41, arrived at LAX less than an hour before the flight landed with their three daughters in tow, ages 17, 13 and 7.
“Lots of nerves, last night I couldn’t sleep,” she said in Spanish in an interview after the flight landed.
Jerez said she planned to stay up late catching up with her husband. She planned to rest at their Los Angeles home tomorrow as well, catching up on their 17 months apart before he has to report to an ICE office Friday in San Diego. Alison Arredondo, 7, said she missed going to the park with her father and she wanted to go to one with him in LA.
While the US has stopped the large-scale separations, it has implemented policies to prevent many asylum-seekers from entering the country. Under its “Remain in Mexico” policy, more than 50,000 people have been told to wait there for weeks or months for US court dates. The Trump administration also is ramping up deportations of Central Americans to other countries in the region to seek asylum there.
“People want to make this a heartwarming story, but it’s not. It’s devastating,” Sewell said. “There is just no good reason why we had to do this to this child and this family. And he symbolizes thousands of others who have been put in this exact same position.”


LIVE: Trump, Biden push into crucial first 2020 campaign presidential debate

Updated 1 min 49 sec ago

LIVE: Trump, Biden push into crucial first 2020 campaign presidential debate

  • Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support

CLEVELAND: President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden prepared to face off Tuesday in their crucial first debate of the 2020 campaign, the most pivotal opportunity yet for the candidates to outline starkly different visions for a country facing multiple crises.

Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.

With just 35 days until the election, and early voting already underway in some states, Biden steps onto the stage holding leads in the polls — significant in national surveys, close in some battleground states — and looking to expand his support among suburban voters, women and seniors. Surveys show the president has lost significant ground among those groups since 2016, but Biden faces his own questions encouraged by Trump’s withering attacks.

Follow it live below, all times GMT:

02:15 - The next segment of the debate moves onto climate change, Trump outlines his supposed achievements in the sector during his term in office, but the big takeaway is Biden saying he would rejoin the Paris accord on climate - which Trump pulled the US out of - if he’s elected president...

02:05 - 

QUOTE: “In 47 months, I’ve done more than you’ve done in 47 years,” Trump told the vice-president.

01:55 - Trump goes for a personal attack, aiming for Biden's son Hunter for business dealing in Ukraine. Biden steers conversation away back toward coronavirus pandemic and its ravaging of US families, debate should not focus on his family.

QUOTE: Facing interruption from Trump and told to offer up his word, Biden says: “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown -- excuse me, this person.”

01:45 - When quizzed on his approach to the shutdown of the American economy, Trump quickly blames what he calls the “China Plague” for forcing him into the shutdown of a self-proclaimed “greatest economy ever built”...

 

 

01:35 - Trump is asked to qualify why the American public should trust him on COVID-19 - Biden uses his segment to say that Trump could not be trusted, and that the public's trust should be placed in the scientists. Trump asserts that Biden would have "lost way more people" had he been in power.

QUOTESTrump to Biden: “You didn't think we should've closed our country (to China) because you thought it was terrible... We've done a great job. But I tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job we've done. You don't have it in your blood.”

01:25 - As Trump takes a question regarding his policy on healthcare, the segment descends into a shouting match between the two candidates - who throw insults at each other - but the thrust of Trump's argument is "Obama-care doesn't work, and is too expensive to run." Biden ends the segment by saying "Keep yapping, man..."

QUOTES: Biden, told by Trump that he has adopted former Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders “socialized medicine” proposals: “Everybody here knows he's a liar ... you picked the wrong guy on the wrong night at the wrong time.”

“Folks, do you have any idea what this clown's doing? I tell you what, he is not for anybody needing healthcare.” After Trump explains his health proposal, Biden says: “He has no plan for healthcare. ... The fact is this man has no idea what he's talking about.”

01:15 - Trump fields his first question and it regards his Supreme Court nomination - in an election year - of Amy Coney Barrett. Trump justifies the nomination - saying “elections have consequences,” and saying Barrett would be “as good as anybody that has served on that court. We won the election, and therefore we have the right to choose her.”

Biden responds by saying results of the upcoming election should determine who nominates the justice to fill the seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “We should wait and see what the outcome of this election is,” Biden said.

01:05 - With both candidates on stage, we're under way...

01:00 - With the First Lady Melania Trump and the rest of the Trump family in place, moderator Chris Wallace of FOX News lays down the ground rules of the debate. Seconds away...

00:45 - We are minutes away as Trump and Biden are all set for the much anticipated first  presidential debate. Millions across America are on the edge of their seats...

*With Agencies