Several years later, family separation lingers

The separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border, under the “Zero Tolerance” policy and its predecessors, marks one of the darkest times in our nation’s history. Families were separated without regard for the long-term consequences of family separation and with no plan for reunification. The trauma of family separation lives on in the lives of those impacted, and exponentially so for families who remain separated to this day.

In advance of President Biden’s early-term Executive Orders on immigration and the creation of a task force centered on reuniting separated families, clients connected with CLINIC’s Formerly Separated Families Project courageously stepped forward to speak about their experiences of separation. Below are summaries to five published news stories that exemplify the ongoing anguish these separations caused.

Henry, who was separated from his 7-year-old son, Brandon in 2018 “says his son panics every time they see a police officer. A few months ago, when Henry had a scheduled check-in with ICE, his son called him frantically: Are they going to send you back to Guatemala?” Henry — who has a removal order that CLINIC attorneys are helping him fight — adds that Brandon is “always so scared that I’m going to be deported.” Read more about Henry and Brandon and the stories of other families here: Separated at the border, reunited, then separated again: For migrant families, another trauma, Kevin Sieff, The Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2021.

María, who the government separated from her daughter in July 2017 and who remains separated, told the Washington Post, “it’s a daily horror for us who are living without our children. It’s an endless sadness … all we want is the opportunity to see our kids, to be with them again.” A CLINIC Fellow at Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. represents María’s daughter. Read more about their story here: Biden announces efforts to reunite migrant families separated by Trump administration, Kevin Sieff, The Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2021.

María’s daughter, Adelaida, and her attorney, Xinia Bermudez, were also featured on Despierta America. You can watch their interview here: “Me decía que no llorara”: el desgarrador testimonio de una niña separada de su madre en la frontera, Univisión, Feb. 3, 2021.

Adan*, who was separated from his father 3 years ago and remains separated, was also interviewed by Despierta America and spoke about the fear that his father would be harmed in his native country, Guatemala. “I don't want anything to happen to him. I hope they do everything possible to bring him here as soon possible, so he won't perish.” CLINIC is helping Adan’s father seek damages for their ongoing separation. Watch Adan’s powerful interview here: Despierta America, Univisión, Feb. 2, 2021.

Xiomara, who was separated from her 8-year-old daughter in 2018 said, “I can hardly wait for the day when I will wake up from this nightmare.” Xiomara and her daughter have been separated for almost three years, and her family could finally be reunited under the new Executive Order on family reunification. Oscar and his son, Daniel, were reunified in the United States, but live in fear that one or both of them could be returned to their native Honduras. “Oscar has been grappling with how to help his son, whom he described as ‘not the same boy since we were separated.’ Daniel runs away whenever he sees someone in police uniform and wakes up screaming at night, Oscar said.” CLINIC is assisting both families. Read more about their stories here: Separated Families: A Legacy Biden Has Inherited From Trump, The New York Times, Feb. 1, 2021.

Several years after family separations began, those impacted continue to bear the scars as a result of cruel, inhumane policy. The United States owes restitution and a path to citizenship to these families. Read CLINIC’s policy recommendations to the Biden administration regarding separated families.

A prayer for separated families

Lord of everlasting grace and mercy,

We pray to you for healing.

May your presence provide comfort and hope to separated families, past and present.

May your guidance be the foundation for a path forward.

Help us alleviate the pain separation has caused.

In Jesus’ name we pray,