Families DividedMore in this series
Mario doesn’t know where he was on the list of 364 — the number of immigrant parents who had been reunited with the children as of Thursday after being separated at the border. But on Friday he didn’t care.
“We’re enjoying this moment. We’re planning what we can do for Fabiola” to celebrate her 10th birthday, which passed while they were separated, he said from New York. Mario, who asked to be identified only by his first name, was reunited with his daughter Monday after the two had been separated June 8 under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration.
The Texas Tribune's reporting on the Families Divided project is supported by the Pulitzer Center, which will also help bring discussions on this important topic to schools and universities in Texas and across the United States through its K-12 and Campus Consortium networks.
Mario was one of 32 immigrant parents transferred to downtown El Paso’s Annunciation House late last month after being separated from their children. As of Monday, he was one of only two from that group still in El Paso who hadn’t been reunited with their children.
But just hours after he spoke at a press conference to talk about the administrative hurdles that were delaying the reunification, his daughter — who had been held at another facility in El Paso — was released to his custody. They are now in New York with Mario's godmother as he awaits an appearance before an immigration judge later this month.
Federal officials said this week that they're working to meet a court order to reunite more than 2,000 immigrant children with their parents. But the process has been fraught with errors and inconsistencies, according to advocates and immigration policy analysts.
“Trump Administration officials made a startling confession — they had no interagency plan in place to reunite children with their parents when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy in April,” Democratic U.S. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Jerrold Nadler and Bennie G. Thompson said in a statement Thursday. “Even if they believed their new policy was the right one, how could they have been so heartless not to have planned to reunite these children with their parents?”
In a statement Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that before it could determine whether to release an immigrant child into the custody of a parent or guardian, it had to conduct background checks on the adult and review case files “to make a determination of parentage or to identify red flags of possible non-parentage or trafficking.”
In Mario’s case, he was told two weeks ago that he needed to submit his birth certificate to help prove he is Fabiola's father, but he insisted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials seized it, along with other documents, after he and his daughter crossed the border and requested asylum. (ICE officials said in an email they don’t keep a person’s documents.) Then he had to wait more than a week for an appointment to be fingerprinted.
But that all changed Monday. And on Friday, Mario said he was looking forward to asking for a work permit and providing for his daughter while their asylum case plays out in the United States.
“I want to thank God and [the press] and especially [El Paso shelter director] Ruben Garcia and all of the volunteers and lawyers,” he said. “They didn’t look at us like just immigrants, but instead they saw us as family.”