Families Divided

The Trump administration's “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led to the separation of children from adults who crossed the border illegally, has fueled a national outcry. Sign up for our ongoing coverage. Send story ideas to tips@texastribune.org.

 More in this series 

Earlier this week, three Central American parents, whose children range from two to 13 years old, sued the federal government over its now-reversed policy of separating migrant families at the border. On Friday, those parents followed up on their suit with a series of desperate pleas: In handwritten court documents, they asked the government to tell them where their children are, who is watching them, what they're doing and, most importantly, when the parents will be able to see them again.

“It ought to be a very simple question for the government to simply provide them reliable, complete information about where their kids are,” said Jerry Wesevich, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid who is representing the parents in the lawsuit.

One of the parents, a father of a 12-year-old girl from Honduras, has not been able to talk to his daughter at all since they were separated nearly three weeks ago. Two Guatemalan mothers said they’ve been allowed brief conversations, but they involve mostly consoling weeping children. And one of the mothers said the phone calls are expensive.

All of the parents are kept anonymous in the lawsuit. Below are excerpts of the pleas from the parents.

Guatemalan mother of three boys, ages 2, 6 and 13

This mother fled her home country after receiving death threats and entered the United States with her three sons at a port of entry in California in May, according to the lawsuit’s original complaint. She requested asylum, and U.S. officials determined she had a credible fear of returning to Guatemala.

Her children were kept with her at the family detention center in Dilley for two weeks, but more than a month ago, the boys were sent to a facility in New York. Their mother is at another detention center in Texas.

On Friday, she entered her handwritten note in Spanish to the federal district court in Washington, D.C.

“I do not know when I will be able to see my children again.”

“I am able to speak with them two times each week for only 10 minutes each time, but sometimes I am not able to speak with them because there are problems with the telephone.”

“The calls are very expensive, so I am only able to call when I have money, but when I do not have money, I am not able to communicate with my children. In one month, I only received one free call from the center.”

She said her two youngest sons are too little to communicate over the phone. The 13-year-old can’t tell her about her two-year-old because the two children are only together for one hour each day.

“I do not know the people who are caring for them so I worry every day.”

“I have never seen my children’s room either, nor the school, the cafeteria, nothing. So I am not able to know if they are safe.”

“The Director said that she knows that the news is saying lots of things, but the children are fine there and that they are good kids. But she does not say any details. She did not tell me anything about how they are eating, or how they are sleeping, and nothing about the school. I know that they are not ‘fine’ because they cry a lot.”

“Like every parent, I want all the information about my children. I want a video of where they are living. I want to know the therapists, the teacher, and all of the people that have contact with my children. Also, I have concerns about the school and I want to know how school is going.”

“I am not able to get this information because of the problems with the telephone, it is too expensive, and if I just have 20 minutes each week to speak, I am going to talk to my children and they are not able to give me this information.”

“Each minute that I do not have this information is anguish.”

“Each minute that I am separated from my children is anguish.”

“I am never at ease without this information and without my children.”

Read her full court declaration

Honduran father of a 12-year-old girl

The father and daughter crossed the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley on June 4, approached officials and asked for asylum. He fled from his country after being shot and continuing to receive threats against him and his family, according to the lawsuit. At a Brownsville processing center, the two were separated, and he has not seen his daughter since.

“First the officials told me that my daughter was going to place called Casa Hogar, but they did not tell me where Casa Hogar was located or how long she would be there.”

“I have asked other immigration officials where my daughter is, but none of them are able to tell me where she is.”

He called his daughter’s grandfather, who had talked to the girl twice and was worried for and desperate to be with her father.

“I worry about my daughter constantly. I am not able to speak with her directly. I do not know if she is well cared for. I do not know if she has been sick. I do not know if she has been sleeping well or eating well. Not knowing anything about my daughter is torture. I am not able to sleep. I desperately want to be with her.”

Read his full court declaration

Guatemalan mother of a 9-year-old boy

The mother and son crossed into Texas near Presidio and sought protection at the nearby port of entry on May 14, according to the lawsuit. They had fled their country after threats of violence.

The next day, her son was taken from her. She believes he’s in New York and knows he has a social worker, but she has no other information. She dictated her pleas to a translator for information to the court:

“I have been able to speak to my child only 3 times and only for approximately 5 minutes each time since we were separated.”

“My son isn’t able to give me much information about his circumstances because he is too young and too upset to understand what is happening. Every time we talk he only wants to know when he will see me again so it’s hard for him to focus on anything else.”

“My son used to be such a happy child who was always joking around with me. Now he just seems depressed — he doesn’t joke with me, he only asks when we will see each other again and begs to be with me. He is scared and lonely and desperate to be with me. I try to tell him that everything will be ok and that I’ll see him soon but, the truth is, I don’t know what will happen with us.”

“There have been a few times, he’s said that he has had a nosebleed. I told him to tell someone if he is feeling sick but he is too scared to tell anyone. He says that he’s scared to report any type of mistreatment or health issue because the other children have told him that children who report things get sent to another place.”

“This whole situation has been horrible for me. I can’t eat, and I can’t sleep because I am constantly reminded when my son was taken from me. I have never been away from my son, and I am just so sad I have to be without him. When I go to eat I’m reminded of when we used to eat together. When I try to sleep I remember how he always slept with me. It breaks my heart to not have him with me.”

“I am always thinking of my son. I wake up from my sleep crying because I remember that he was taken from me. I feel so upset and sad when I remember how he was taken from me. I don’t understand how someone could take their child away from their mother. I think, ‘Don’t they have children, too? Don’t they know the pain I’m feeling?’ Then I say to myself that God has a plan, but I still don’t understand why my son was taken.”

Read her full court declaration

Read related Tribune coverage:

Reference Material